Guest Post by The Diamondback Online Staff Editorial Board
A seemingly obvious protection went into effect when former President Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. Although activists knew the law would periodically be up for reauthorization, it seemed unfathomable to them that members of Congress would try to reverse a law helping victims of violence. The legislative battle was over, and efforts could be geared toward the real battle — helping these battered women.
The measure’s passage was a milestone in this country. It created new programs, funding and reforms that have shaped responses to violence in all forms, be it domestic, sexual or dating-related. It set a precedent that reported violent crimes will be solved and not merely brushed under the rug, and prosecutors who fail to protect these women in court suffer repercussions. The act made it OK to talk about abuse. This critical piece of legislation has led to improvement on many levels, but there are still so many obstacles to overcome.
Lawmakers renewed and expanded the act in 2000 and 2005; partisan politics didn’t play a leading role in this issue of human rights. Each aspect of the initial law has been revamped to ensure optimal protection for victims. Every time the act was up for renewal, it was modernized and made more inclusive.
But this year, the act is facing resistance. There are new provisions that would extend the act’s protection to same-sex couples and illegal immigrants, which many conservative Republicans aren’t on board with. There are members of Congress ready to withhold protections for all women just because they include two additional groups of people. Lawmakers are willing to forgo public health and safety on the premise they are protecting their values.
You can’t always pick out who has been abused in a crowd. A victim of violence can be a woman on a college campus, a woman running in the park at noon, a woman living in a mansion, a woman eating out of a dumpster, a woman riding the subway or a woman born in another country.
Violence doesn’t discriminate; why should protection?
Vice President Joe Biden, who wrote the original act, wrote in a column for McClatchy-Tribune that 23,000 women each month call the national domestic abuse hotline, which runs so successfully because of the act’s ability to break down barriers. Women who may have previously suffered in silence can come forward because of programs created under the measure. Numerous different initiatives have launched to help victims recover, and many of them were made possible because of provisions in the VAWA. The culture that has a problem with talking about violence against women is (slowly) disintegrating.
But violence against women is widespread, and the stigma against reporting crimes still exists. The university and all levels of government have to keep moving forward to stop the violence. The first step is protection, which will hopefully lead to being able to prevent these heinous crimes. If one link in the chain of help for these victims breaks — like the VAWA not being renewed — the whole system could fall apart. We would be back at square one, and victims of a myriad of violent crimes need our help too much for that to be an option.
Cross-Posted with permission from The Diamondback Online, The University of Maryland’s Independent Daily Student Newspaper.
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