After a lengthy, two year battle, the Violence Against Women Act has been reauthorized by Congress after today’s vote in the House of Representatives. First enacted in 1994, the law was drafted to provide greater legal protections, services and other benefits (such as emergency housing) to survivors of domestic violence. Last April, the bill was modified by the Senate in order to address issues such as sexual orientation, gender identity, Native American reservations and undocumented immigration status. Although lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, Native American and undocumented women would have been explicitly protected under the law, the bill was rejected by Republicans in the House of Representatives for being “politically driven,” allowing the law to expire for the first time.
Since then, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and in the House have battled over the additional protections given to minority groups. House Republicans drafted their own version of the Violence Against Women Act, stripping it of all provisions to include sexual orientation, gender identity and undocumented immigration status, while restricting the capability of Native American tribal courts to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence on reservations. However, in a 286 to 138 vote, the House has passed the Senate’s all-inclusive version of the bill, after rejecting its own stripped down version by 257 to 166. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law by the end of the week.
Transgender and Transsexual women who suffer domestic violence often choose not to report it due to a number of factors, including institutionalized transphobia within law enforcement and the judicial system. Numerous instances of failure by law enforcement to arrest or prosecute offenders after discovering the victim is transgender or transsexual have been documented by the Transgender Law Center. The passing of the trans-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act is a distinct victory for the community.