VPLC Urges Senate to Pass VAWA and Lay Groundwork for House to Pass Senate Version of VAWA

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Michael Crapo (R-ID) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have joined a coalition of bi-partisan Senators to co-sponsor the VAWA reauthorization bill (S.47) and take action to ensure VAWA’s swift passage.  The U.S. Senate voted by a wide margin, 85-8, to move the bill forward. A final vote is expected later this week. So, thank Senators Warner and Kaine for their support of this important legislation.  Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask the operator to connect you to your Senators.

VAWA’s reauthorization has been caught up in partisan gridlock over provisions that would protect undocumented immigrants, LGBT and Native American victims of domestic and sexual violence. The Act technically expired in September 2011, but lawmakers have allowed funding through September 2013.  Congress failed to reauthorize the bill by the end of 2012, and the Senate is now considering the same legislation again, in its new legislative session.  The latest bill reauthorizes VAWA for five years.  The U.S. Senate took an important step Monday toward reauthorizing VAWA.

All of the women in the Senate, except for Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), co-sponsored the legislation.  Republican opposition to extending VAWA was a failure to extend federal protections to 30 million more women, including LGBT women, Native American women living in tribal lands, and immigrants. Most of these extensions were opposed for political reasons, but the increase of U-Visas available to undocumented migrants who have been victims of sexual and domestic abuse received objections on procedural grounds.  The new Leahy-Crapo VAWA reauthorization bill removed this controversial provision.  After two days of party “retreats,” VAWA is expected to come up again on Thursday, February 7. With 61 sponsors, it is expected to pass.  But the fate of life-saving services and counseling for millions of victims will then be in the hands of House Republicans.

VAWA in Virginia

Programs that provide legal assistance, shelter, counseling, and other support for victims of domestic and sexual abuse are in jeopardy throughout Virginia, as lawmakers in Washington battle over reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Legal Aid is already in a fiscal crisis due to the economy. Any further reduction in funding for legal and other domestic violence support will result in battered people having nowhere to turn for legal protection.

Since VAWA first passed in 1994, it has created an infrastructure in many Virginia communities to help victims escape their abusers.  Without VAWA’s reauthorization and funding, that infrastructure is at risk, even though the need for domestic and sexual violence assistance has not abated.

Two Virginia Legal Aid programs currently receive VAWA grants to assist victims in establishing safe contact, child and spousal support, divorces and custody arrangements with abusers, among other legal needs.

Legal Services of Northern Virginia receives a VAWA grant that pays for representation of about 400 of the 1,500 domestic violence victims the program serves annually, said James Ferguson, the program’s executive director.

VAWA also supports Susheela Varky, an attorney who assists victims through the Virginia Poverty Law Center — also part of Legal Aid. Varky works statewide where no other affordable lawyer is available, to advise low-income persons trying to escape sexual, physical and psychological violence by spouses, human traffickers, criminal attacks, stalkers and even teens who are dealing with intimate partner violence. She is the only VAWA-funded attorney who provides this service statewide.

Read the full press release

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