October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and survivors are waiting in limbo as the landmark Violence Against Women Act awaits congressional reauthorization.
It’s been 18 years since then-Senator Joe Biden drafted VAWA and it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Since its inception, the law has enjoyed bipartisan support — something many are counting on now. Since it was enacted, the rate for intimate partner homicides has decreased 65 percent for women and 50 percent for men. As this information from the White House explains, VAWA is still tremendously important in providing services badly needed:
Today, three women are still killed every day as a result of domestic violence. Sexual assault remains at epidemic levels in this country: 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been raped in their lifetimes, and the overwhelming majority were victimized before the age of 25. Teens and young adults suffer the highest rates of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. And domestic violence takes its toll on our economy as well. Even by conservative estimates, domestic violence costs our economy more than 8 billion dollars a year in lost productivity and health care costs alone.
Programs funded by VAWA — many of whom would not exist at all without said funding — meet a variety of needs for survivors of violence including eviction protection (because of events related to domestic violence), rape crisis centers, violence prevention programs and organizations, services for people with disabilities, legal aid, and more.
But reauthorization for VAWA has stalled due to political posturing by House conservatives who want to strip protections for LGBT individuals, Native Americans, and immigrants in the Adams Bill version of the law (passed by the House this spring). Because of this gamesmanship (or should I say, poor gamesmanship) long-time VAWA supporters like the AAUW are criticizing the House version (a more inclusive form of VAWA already passed the Senate with a bipartisan vote) and are calling for not only inclusive protection within the legislation, but also an end to the politics that may very well block access to funding, programs, and services to thousands of survivors of violence.
While I doubt this will be addressed during tomorrow’s presidential debate, even if it is I fear it will do little good toward the passage of an inclusive law that offers protection for all. The sad truth is, that while October may be Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it will probably be just another month that survivors of domestic and sexual violence must suffer in silence and continue to be ignored and marginalized. Helping survivors is not a wedge issue. Survivors are not political pawns. They are people. Regardless of what happens on Nov. 6, we need to remember that.