After emotional press statements and heated floor debate the House passed a deeply controversial version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) this afternoon in direct opposition to the spirit and the letter of the Senate bill. First passed in 1994 and reauthorized twice since then, the Senate version upholds the bipartisan traditions of VAWA reauthorization and seeks to offer greater protections to victims of domestic violence based on updated reports from advocate groups and state judiciary systems, the House bill rolls back protections.
· It weakens protections for battered spouses of legal immigrants;
· It discourages immigrant women living in the shadows to report abusive behavior to authorities;
· It fails to protect LGBT victims
· It fails to protect Native American women abused by non-Indian defendants on tribal lands;
The House version of the bill is opposed by over 100 advocacy groups who see it as regressive and dehumanizing. "Let's call this bill what it's really is," said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) during a news conference today. "It's not the Violence Against Women act, but the Open Season for Violence Against Women Act."
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) gave a riveting account of her personal experiences with domestic violence 20 years ago, recounting her vulnerability after being raped and choked only to be victimized again during judicial proceedings which sought to blame her for the abuse. She described her disappointment at having progress rolled back.
"This Republican bill suggests," said Rep. John Lewis, "that some victims are more important to protect than others. It is as though we are saying those who are different--immigrants, Native Americans, or have a different sexual orientation--do not deserve protection. It you start choosing who deserves democracy and who does not you jeopardize the administration of justice for every American citizen. In America we should be legislating in ways that demonstrate every human being has the right to dignity and respect."
Passage of the bill was a bittersweet victory for Rep. Lewis whose SMART Teen Dating Violence Prevention Act of 2011 was included in both the Republican and Democratic versions of the bill. This double inclusion indicates the bill is likely to become law, however, the question is when. At this juncture the discrepancies between the House and Senate versions will have to reconciled before the bill can become law. President Obama has threatened to veto the House bill if it arrives on his desk.
This week Rep. Lewis also held two briefings--one policy briefing and the other on domestic violence against men. He seeks consideration of the plight of men who may have been taught restraint yet are victimized by women. One notable case was that of Phil Hartmann, the popular Saturday Night Live comedian killed by his wife in 1994 who was reported to be given to fits of rage. Though the prevalence of domestic violence against men is not as great, Rep. Lewis believes men deserve the same protections against their abusive spouses.