Everyone Loses if VAWA Isn't Finished
Posted by Kiera Bloore on Thu, Aug 23, 2012 at 11:59 am
In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2012 (VAWA), H.R. 4970, a bill which severely undermines the protections available to survivors of violence and places victims at further risk of harm. However, the Senate bill, S. 1925, represents the spirit of the "real VAWA" which protects all victims of violence and maintains programs and services to serve victims and make our communities safer. Congress needs to act immediately to pass a bipartisan VAWA which protects all vulnerable women and victims from abuse and violence.
I witnessed first-hand the importance of VAWA through a recent internship at the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project where I worked with domestic violence survivors who struggled to free themselves from their abusers. These women were scared; they often had nowhere to go after leaving their abusers and did not know where to turn for help. These women were also incredibly courageous. Despite their fears of retaliation, they chose to have faith in our judicial system and trust that they would receive the protection that they deserve. The cases I saw in DC Superior Court were devastating and the women were inspirational, but these cases did not necessarily involve immigrant women, Native women, or women in the LGBTQ community – I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for these particularly vulnerable women to stand up for themselves and reach out for help. That is why we all must vocalize our support for the reauthorization of a “real” VAWA – one that provides adequate protections for all survivors of violence including immigrants, members of Native American communities, and members of the LGBTQ community.
Since its enactment in 1994, VAWA has always included important protections for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, recognizing that the abusers of immigrant victims often use their victims’ lack of immigration status as a tool for abuse, leaving the victim afraid to seek services or report the abuse to law enforcement. The U and T visas for victims of violent crimes and for human trafficking victims were created in VAWA 2000. Immigrant victims desperately need these legal protections to prevent abusers from using immigration status as a tool of abuse and control. Survivors of violence should never be forced to choose between living with abuse and facing deportation.
The following story from HR 4970 Empowers Abusers, Not Victims illustrates why Congress needs to reauthorize a VAWA that does not roll-back protections for immigrant victims of violence.
"Sara" entered the United States on a student visa to study at a prestigious university. Within a year, she fell in love and married a United States citizen. Her husband soon became controlling and aggressive, forcing her to quit school. His beatings became increasingly violent, culminating in a particularly vicious attack that left her unconscious. Neighbors called the police, who broke down the door to rescue her. Yet Sara withdrew the charges against him out of fear that he would kill her, as is too often the case. Without proper U.S. identification and legal status allowing her to financially support herself, Sara was afraid to escape her extremely dangerous husband . . . While her husband was briefly jailed, Sara met a victim advocate and began to complete a VAWA application for legal residency in secret. Once it was approved, advocates strategically planned her escape and she was relocated to another state . . . If Sara had not had the promise of confidentiality she likely would not have taken the steps necessary to free herself from her abuser. Had it not been for the VAWA protections that keep victims' secrets safe, Sara might not be alive today.
We also cannot turn a blind eye to the horrible violence committed in our country against Native women and LGBTQ individuals. According to the Rachel Coalition, Native women are 2.5 times more likely than other U.S. women to be battered, raped, or stalked: 34% of Native women will be raped in their lifetimes and 39% will be victims of domestic violence. While LGBTQ individuals experience violence at about the same rate as non-LGBTQ individuals, a 2010 survey reports that 45% of LGBTQ victims were turned away when they sought help from a domestic violence shelter and nearly 55% of those who sought protection orders were denied them.
These statistics are shameful. And what is more frustrating is that we all know and Congress knows that the reauthorization of VAWA could provide real protection for these survivors. Since the original passage of VAWA in 1994, more victims report domestic violence to the police and the rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women has decreased by 63%. Still, violence persists and we need to act now.
Congress has not taken adequate steps to move forward with VAWA. We need to let Congress know that everyone loses if VAWA isn’t finished.
As Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said at the Stand Up for VAWA Rally: “It is simply preposterous to assert that women shall be protected from violence unless they are immigrants – or Native Americans living on reservations, or those in the LGBT community. All Americans are equal, and all women are equal. . .”
While we are still struggling to make progress, I take pride in the fact that the Jewish community has consistently been at the forefront of this issue. Jewish texts make it clear that violence against women is unacceptable. In the “Book of Women,” Maimonides writes: "And thus the sages commanded that a man should honor his wife more than he honors himself, and love her as he loves himself. And if he has money, he should increase her benefits according to his wealth. He should not intimidate her too much; he should speak with her gently, and should be neither saddened nor angry" (Sefer Nashim 15:19). I am confident that the Jewish community will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that all women – regardless of their race, religion, age, national origin or immigration status – are protected from violence.