Renewed Violence Against Women Act languishes in U.S. Senate

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U.S. Senator Akaka urges passing of Senate VAWA in 2012. Image: The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights/Flickr

Twenty-five years ago, the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, was signed into law. The protections it afforded to victims of sexual and domestic violence and stalking were renewed and expanded in 2000, 2005 and 2013. Last April, the U.S. House of Representatives passed, with bipartisan support, yet another renewal, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, H.R. 1585, this time with added protections for women on tribal lands, for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and with new limits on the ability of perpetrators of domestic violence to obtain guns. The bill was sent to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it has languished. One Senate staffer confirmed Wednesday that "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't put it on the legislative schedule."

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, during which many survivors of domestic abuse and their supporters wear purple to draw attention to this problem, considered a national epidemic. Every 16 hours in the United States, a woman is shot to death by her partner.

The text of the current bill contains statistics worth repeating:

"Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high-income countries. Female intimate partners are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than all other means combined. The presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 per cent."

The bill continues:

"Homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women on the job. Domestic partners or relatives commit 43 percent of workplace homicides against women … in 2010, homicides against women at work increased by 13 percent despite continuous declines in overall workplace homicides in recent years."

This new House VAWA bill, one of the earliest considered by the new Congress, which includes a historic number of women, passed by a vote of 263 to 158, with 33 Republicans joining the Democratic majority. The Republican support came despite opposition from the National Rifle Association, which strongly opposes language in the bill to close the "boyfriend loophole," which allows gun purchases by unmarried, domestic or intimate partners who have been convicted of abuse or are under a restraining order.

Last week, Everytown for Gun Safety reported:

"Every month, an average of 52 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. Nearly 1 million women alive today have reported being shot or shot at by intimate partners, and 4.5 million women have reported being threatened with a gun. In more than half of mass shootings over the past decade, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member as part of the rampage."

Amplifying that last statistic, March for Our Lives, the gun control group founded by teenage survivors of the Parkland, Florida, massacre on Valentine's Day 2018, sent out an email calling domestic violence a gun violence issue, noting that at least 54 per cent of mass shootings are committed by domestic abusers. The list of mass shooters who were known domestic abusers or stalkers is long. In Parkland, the shooter had stalked another student and killed her in the massacre; in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the shooter had been convicted of domestic violence, but that conviction was not shared on the FBI's National Crime Information Center database, allowing him to purchase guns; in Newtown, Connecticut, the shooter killed his mother first before heading to Sandy Hook Elementary; the Pulse nightclub shooter in Orlando was physically and verbally abusive to his wife; and, most recently, in Dayton, Ohio, the shooter had kept a "rape list" of potential targets in high school and killed his sister during his murderous rampage.

Last Saturday, the Houston Astros defeated the New York Yankees, clinching a spot in the World Series. Among three female journalists in the Astros locker room covering the celebration was Sports Illustrated's Stephanie Apstein, who was wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness bracelet. Houston Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman yelled at them, "Thank God we got Osuna! I'm so f***ing glad we got Osuna!" The Astros signed relief pitcher Roberto Osuna from the Toronto Blue Jays in 2018, weeks after he received a 75-game suspension related to accusations he assaulted his child's mother. Taubman was forced to apologize, and Major League Baseball is investigating the incident.

One goal of the Violence Against Women Act is to educate people across all sectors of our society, to make domestic abuse simply unacceptable. "VAWA's overwhelming impact on the lives of victims makes the need for reauthorization more critical now than ever," writes Lynn Hecht Schafran of Legal Momentum (the new name for the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund). "VAWA is moving the culture forward toward a future where everyone can live free from violence."

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!

Image: The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights/Flickr

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