It’s hard to understand how something like the Violence Against Women Act can get caught up in partisan politics in Washington, but members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation say that is exactly what has happened.
At a Capitol press conference Tuesday, U.S. Reps. Joseph Courtney, Rose DeLauro, and Chris Murphy accused House Republicans of placing personal ideology above the lives and health of women.
The law, originally passed in 1994, classifies domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes. It also directs federal money to encourage community efforts to combat domestic violence. The law expired last year and Congress is currently debating its reauthorization.
Murphy said the bill shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Since VAWA became law, acts of domestic violence have dropped by more than half, he said.
In April, the Senate passed its own version of the bill, which DeLauro said strengthened and modernized the law.
The Senate version, which passed with bipartisan support, would give additional protection to gays and lesbians as well as undocumented immigrants and Native American women.
Murphy said the version House Republicans crafted and passed out of the House Judiciary Committee is far weaker, and the House version submits those categories of women to more abuse because it removed the new protections.
According to Murphy, 50 percent of gay and lesbian people seeking help in domestic violence cases are denied assistance nationwide. The Senate bill addresses the problem by implementing a nondiscrimination clause, which calls for the uniform protection of all victims, he said.
He said the House version also puts undocumented victims at risk by requiring notification of their spouse if they apply for temporary Visa while their case proceeds in court. The victim’s spouse could further abuse them and would be given the opportunity to provide evidence to immigration officials that could deny the victim the Visa.
Native Americans would also continue to suffer under the House bill because it removed a provision giving tribes greater authority to prosecute attacks by people who aren’t part of the tribe, Murphy said.
Courtney called the policy counterproductive.
“We’re fighting over a bill which would take this country backward,” Courtney said.
Karen Jarmoc, executive director at the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said VAWA supports both a Stock Grant program that allows for in-depth training of law enforcement in domestic violence incidents, as well as a Victims Grant program which allows Connecticut’s 18 domestic violence agencies to reach out for legal help in high-risk abuse cases.
While Senate and House ideals differ and Republican and Democratic ideals differ, Murphy insisted that the bill must be a consensus of those who work in the field of domestic violence services.
DeLauro said Democrats would offer amendments when the House raises the bill in an effort to bring it more in line with the measure the Senate passed.
After being abused for 15 years, domestic violence survivor April Pierce sought help from the Meriden Wallingford Chrysalis Center. With the the center’s help, she became an empowered, self-confident woman and wishes for every domestic violence survivor to feel the same way. Pierce said she wants the legislation to pass so other women can be helped.