Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act Extension Passes U.S. Senate

Gavel

On Feb 28, 2013, the House passed SB 48,  the extension of the Violence Against Women Act, after the Senate passed the legislation on Feb. 12, 2013. This legislation will reauthorize VAWA for five years. The law, which expired in 2011, provides protections and assistance programs to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.  An amendment added to the bill extends the anti-trafficking law through 2017. The anti-trafficking amendment combats human trafficking, while providing protections and assistance programs to trafficking victims. It would also authorize underage sex-trafficking victims to receive assistance from grants provided to help children exposed to violence. The sex trafficking amendment specifically allocates block grant funding, with a match requirement, to states to enhance their state and local efforts to combat sex-trafficking.

The bill faced opposition in the House mainly due to two components added to the bill in the Senate. The first controversial component is language that would give American Indian tribal courts additional authority over nontribal domestic violence offenders. Opponents fear that because tribal courts are not bound by certain amendments of the U.S. Constitution the rights of American citizens could be undermined. The second controversial component is language that would make it illegal for victim services organizations that receive grant funding to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Opponents worry this language could open up shelters to unjust lawsuits. Originally, the House intended to pass a substitute version of the bill, but abandoned that effort due to a lack of votes and ultimately passed the Senate version.

A third controversial component of the bill—the provision expanding the number of U-visas to foreign nationals who have been victims of abuse—was taken out of this version of VAWA. Critics argued that it created an easy loophole for immigration fraud. Senator Patrick Leahy (VT-D), upon removing this language, has expressed that he wishes to add expanded U-visas for foreign nationals who have been victims of domestic abuse into the comprehensive immigration reform bill that is currently being written by a bipartisan group of senators.