Senate Measure Extends, Bolsters Services in Violence Against Women Act

February 12, 2013

by Jeremy Leaming

There was a time, a long time ago, when major pieces of social safety net legislation could get through Congress with some bipartisan support. For example, the Violence Against Women Act, which extended government services to victims of domestic violence, passed Congress in 1994 with bipartisan support.

But as noted here last year the reauthorization of the VAWA proved too difficult for the 112th Congress, primarily because of the Republican-controlled House, which is all about cutting services for the nation’s most vulnerable, while coddling the superrich. A Senate reauthorization version, championed by Sen. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), would extend government services to help more victims of domestic violence – such as providing limited jurisdiction to tribal courts to prosecute violence committed on tribal lands by those who are not living on the land or not members of the community.

Today the 113th passed a VAWA reauthorization similar to the one it passed last session – one aimed at bolstering the services provided to victims of domestic violence and extending services to more victims of domestic violence. And the reauthorization measure had some Republican support – 23 voted in favor. All Democrats supported the measure. Twenty-two Republican rejected reauthorization.

Once again it was the extension of services that prompted Republicans to vote against reauthorization. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he couldn’t support reauthorization, in part, because of “concerns regarding the conferring of criminal jurisdiction to some Indian tribal governments over all persons on Indian country, including non-Indians,” Pema Levy reported for TPM.

In an ACS Issue Brief, law professor Matthew L.M. Fletcher urged national lawmakers to help with an epidemic of domestic violence on Indian reservations partly by “recognizing tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians for domestic violence misdemeanors.”


In a press statement lauding today’s passage of the VAWA reauthorization, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said reauthorization would make for a much more effective law.

“It will increase VAWA’s focus on rape victims and push colleges to strengthen their efforts to protect students from domestic and sexual violence,” Leahy stated. “This reauthorization will allow us to make real progress in addressing the horrifying epidemic of domestic violence in tribal communities. This bipartisan bill will allow services to get to those in the LGBT community who have had trouble accessing services in the past. The bill also includes key improvements for immigrant victims of domestic sexual violence.”

Beyond House Republicans’ aversion to bolster services for the nation’s most vulnerable, right-wing activists also ratcheted up efforts to scuttle reauthorization. During last year’s battle, the Family Research Council, a Christian Right outfit, crudely remarked that reauthorization “does real violence to the budget and individual freedoms.” Phyllis Schafly said VAWA was essentially a “slush fund for the feminist lobby.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation applauded the Senate for overcoming the right-wing efforts to destroy VAWA and lauded the law and its provisions for working “to reduce incidents of domestic violence, date violence, sexual assault and stalking crimes ….”

But despite the VAWA victory in the Senate, it’s now the House’s turn. House leaders are likely in no rush to consider reauthorization and when they do, they’ll likely trumpet a weak reauthorization.