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Senate Passes Violence Against Women Act with New Protections

The Violence Against Women Act moved forward Tuesday as the Senate voted to reauthorize the measure in a 78-to-22 vote.  The original Act was enacted in 1994 and has twice been reauthorized (2000 and 2005); reauthorization in 2011 was halted when the House and Senate were unable to resolve differences between versions. 

The reauthorization clarifies language stating programs funded through the Act should not discriminate against gay and lesbian women and extends protections to women on tribal reservations.  The Indian Affairs Committee has said this provision is needed, as they report that Native American women are raped and battered at 2 1/2 times the national rate and that less than half of domestic violence cases on reservations are prosecuted.  The Act also extends protections for immigrant women, who often have specialized needs.  Undocumented immigrant women may not report abuse for fear of deportation; this bill provides visa options which allow abused undocumented women to remain in the U.S.    Documented immigrant women married to U.S. citizens often keep abuse secret as well, as they may be relying on abusive partners for sponsorship; this bill will allow women in this situation to petition for independent legal status without relying on their abusive spouse. 

The Violence Against Women Act reauthorization also includes provisions to try to help eliminate the backlog of DNA kits collected as evidence in rape cases waiting to be analyzed; address sexual assault in immigration detention facilities; and help ensure child victims of sex trafficking are referred to treatment services rather than being prosecuted as criminals. 

The Senate version of the bill extends the Act for five years and provides $659 million for programs included in the Act; this is a 17% decrease from the 2005 reauthorization. 

The next step for the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization will be a vote in the House.  Please visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence to learn how you can be involved and to sign up for action alerts. 

For more information on the Violence Against Women Act and its impact, please see the VAWA Factsheet produced by the White House.

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