One year ago, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) expired. Since 1994, this landmark legislation has been funding clinics, shelters, and hotlines for victims in crisis across the country, and provided tremendously important tools for law enforcement to crack down on abusers and rapists. Over the past year, VAWA has trained 500,000 law enforcement officers and judicial officials, and provided a national crisis hotline that served 264,000 victims. So why do victims and service providers find themselves one year later without the certainty of a renewed law? Some in the House are still trying to figure out which victims deserve its protection.
“Rape is rape and there’s no splitting hairs over rape.” That’s what Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate, said in an interview about an abortion funding bill he cosponsored that tried to split hairs by defining “forcible” rape. But Reps. Ryan, Todd Akin, and their colleagues in the House are splitting hairs over something much more dangerous for rape victims: which women deserve protection and services under VAWA. Originally passed in 1994 as the first and only comprehensive bill to combat rape and domestic violence, VAWA has been reauthorized unanimously by Congress in 2000 and 2005. For years, protecting women from rape and domestic violence has been the issue too important to argue about for Congress: until now.
After passing the Senate in April by a now-rare supermajority of 68, including every female senator, the House stopped the bill in its tracks.