By Kaitlin Dunn
Elm Staff Writer
In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. In 2000 and 2005 respectively, the protections and provisions of the act were expanded and improved upon in the VAWA Acts of 2000 and the VAWA and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005.
“VAWA 2000 and VAWA 2005 reauthorized the grant programs created by the original VAWA and expanded the initial mandate to address not only domestic violence, but sexual assault and stalking as well, and specifically took into account the needs of underserved populations,” reports the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.
“The legislation, which requires legislative renewal every five years, initially expired in late 2018 because of the government shutdown. It was briefly renewed by the bill that ended the government shutdown, but expired again in February 2019,” Savannah Behrmann of USA Today said.
On March 17, the House moved to renew the VAWA, adding provisions to restrict firearm access for convicted domestic abusers, among other things.
President Joe Biden has expressed strong support for both the bill’s renewal and its strengthening, encouraging bipartisanship within the Senate on the vote.
“This should not be a Democratic or Republican issue — it’s about standing up against the abuse of power and preventing violence,” Biden said in an official statement. “Now, I urge the Senate to follow past precedent and bring a strong bipartisan coalition together to ensure the passage of VAWA so that I can sign this legislation as soon as possible.”
Encouraged with bipartisan support, it is pertinent for Congress to renew the VAWA.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, reported instances of domestic violence have risen exponentially, according to TIME Magazine.
Jefferey Kluger with TIME Magazine reports that “Surveys around the world have shown domestic abuse spiking since January of 2020 — jumping markedly year over year compared to the same period in 2019… for example, 18% in San Antonio, 22% in Portland.; and 10% in New York City.”
Biden has called the rise in domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic a “pandemic within a pandemic,” further supplementing his support for the reauthorization of the VAWA.
Although the COVID-19 virus does not make an abuser, it has exacerbated these situations and, in many cases, trapped people in violent situations due to the stay-at-home orders that have been put in place.
“When there’s little to no time apart, such abuse can grow worse, quickly. Even with the difficulty many victims have had phoning hotlines during the pandemic, calls from people experiencing domestic violence in the U.K. jumped 200% in the spring of 2020 compared to call volume before the lockdowns began, according to Refuge, a U.K.-based domestic violence charity,” Kluger said.
The reauthorization of the VAWA is extremely important in a normal time. With the pandemic’s rise of domestic violence instances, it is even more pertinent for Congress to pass the VAWA. This would allow for more funding for survivor programs and better access to resources for people to escape violent situations.
In addition to the increase in domestic violence, there has been a recent increase in gun violence in the last year, with 2020 being the deadliest year for gun violence in recent decades. With the increase in gun violence, it would be extremely foolish for the Senate to not pass the VAWA, which includes a provision that closes the “boyfriend loophole.”
“Currently, federal law prohibits those convicted of domestic violence from possessing or buying firearms. But it does not apply to perpetrators who have abused current or former dating partners with whom they do not share a child, or with whom they have never lived, thus the name ‘boyfriend loophole,’” Robin Abcarian of The Los Angeles Times said.
The passing of the reauthorization of the VAWA is not simply necessary, it is vital. It would be a foolish play of human life if the Senate were to not vote for the reauthorization of this act.
Featured Photo caption: Former president Barack Obama attends the Violence Against Women Act signing ceremony on March 7, 2013. Photo courtesy of Flickr.