The nation's most important law focusing on the safety of women, VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act) was reauthorized by the United States Senate today after having been allowed to lapse for over a month.
The bill, which has yet to pass the House of Representatives, saw a landslide victory in the Senate, with 78 Senators voting in favor of it and 22 voting opposed. VAWA's numerous provisions and grants to help people with transitional housing and legal aid were critical in creating a climate where domestic violence rates could go down steadily. Currently, domestic violence rates are two-thirds less than they were before the initial passage of VAWA.
VAWA contains not only funding for shelters and transitional housing, but also for legal assistance for trafficked women or the victims of intimate partner violence.
The new edition of VAWA also adds a few new elements. One of those elements will help raped women seek justice for their sexual assault. Currently, experts estimate that there is a backlog of nearly half a million total rape kits in the United States. The backlog has been caused because of a lack of people to analyze and interpret the evidence. According to the new VAWA plan, rape kits could be tested at a time much closer to the sexual assault itself.
In order to get to the president's desk (Obama is fully expected to sign VAWA into law once it reaches him), the Violence Against Women Act will next need to jump through the biggest hoop of all: The U.S. House of Representatives.
Some of the provisions in the VAWA have struck House Republican members as controversial due to being potentially unconstitutional. The law includes a provision that allows for non-Indians to be tried in American Indian courts on tribal land if they are accused of raping a woman on a reservation.
According to some Republicans in both the House and Senate, subjecting American citizens to Indian courts would be unconstitutional. However, Democrats claimed that the provisions were not only Constitutionally permissible but necessary: because American Indian women are raped at a rate far higher than white women, and that currently most of these cases go unprosecuted by the federal courts system when a non-Indian man rapes an American Indian woman.
The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act means that many charities and non-profits that help battered women will not be forced to close their doors to abuse victims. The Senate bill enjoyed broadside partisan support, but the battle in the House is expected to be a more uphill climb.