The Fight to Renew the Violence Against Women Act: How to Help


The federal protections for women who find themselves in harms way are about to go up in smoke. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has helped usher in many critical protections, resources, and responses for these women. It is legislation that needs to be renewed by Congress periodically, and we are in the midst of that renewal process right now.

Here’s some background about this important Act, followed by the fight that just transpired in the House, and what comes next.

When did the VAWA first get passed and what does it do?

The Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994, signed by then President Bill Clinton. The bill was made possible by a long and persistent effort by grassroots organizations in the 1980s and early 1990s. The 1994 legislation was co-written by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE). It passed in the House with a vote of 235–195, and in the Senate with a vote of 61–38.

“The Act provided $1.6 billion toward investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave un-prosecuted. The Act also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.” (Source)

In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down the provision in the Act that allowed women to sue their attackers in federal court, writing that it exceeded the federal government’s powers under the Commerce Clause. Otherwise, the Act has remained intact and has been improved over the years.

VAWA needs periodic renewals by Congress

Periodically, the VAWA expires and needs to be reauthorized. The downside is that if it isn’t passed the bill expires, but the upside is that the Act can be amended and improved at these critical moments. For example, during the 2013 renewal, the Act was amended to cover same-sex couples.

In this most recent cycle, VAWA expired due to the government shutdown we had this past December. It was included on a short-term spending bill in January, but that ran out in February.

How the House renewed VAWA

As the House, with its Democratic majority, started to work on renewing the VAWA, they decided to amend the Act to include a few new provisions including closing a critical loophole, the “boyfriend loophole.” The VAWA prohibits a spouse convicted of abuse from owning a gun, but lawmakers wanted to expand this provision to include any intimate partners convicted of abuse or stalking from owning a gun.

“The case for stripping domestic abusers of their guns is powerful. An abused woman is five times more likely to be killed if the abuser is a gun-owner. When a domestic violence assault involves a firearm, it is 12 times more likely to end in the death of the victim. Laws like the red-flag provision proposed for VAWA save lives: In states adopting laws permitting confiscation of firearms from domestic abusers, intimate partner homicides have dropped by 7 percent.” (Source)

Well, it should come as no surprise that this new provision sparked the ire of the NRA, and they lobbied hard against the passage of this amended VAWA. The good news is that the NRA lost and the bill was passed 4 days ago, with a vote of 263-158.

It is important to note that the NRA didn’t just lobby to kill this renewal of VAWA, but they went so far as to tell lawmakers that they would dock their NRA grade if they voted for the Act. This is the grade the NRA uses to determine how much money to give to campaigns, and is a scorecard they promote in conservative circles. Nonetheless, 33 Republicans in the House voted to pass the bill. You can see a list of them HERE. (GOP names are in italics.)

What happens now?

Now that VAWA has passed in the House, we now need to get it passed in the Senate. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has been working with Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) to write the Senate’s version of the VAWA renewal. Yes, they could have taken up the House’s version and voted on it, but they believe that writing a bipartisan bill makes its passage in the Senate more likely.

Not surprisingly, the NRA has renewed their push against the passage of this bill, and they may very well have more sway in the Senate.

Here’s the call to action: The Violence Against Women Act was made possible due to the extraordinary activism of women. Let’s not let their efforts go to waste by not pushing our Senators today to renew this important legislation. We can all take the time to write or call our Senators and express that we believe that renewing this Act immediately is of critical importance. Women’s lives are at stake. 

You can find the contact information for your Senators HERE. Please reach out to them today, and then share this information with others. Let’s activate the power of the grassroots to get this done.

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