Students, officials rally behind Violence Against Women Act

By Guest Blogger
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Cross-posted with permission from The Diamondback Online, The University of Maryland’s Independent Daily Student Newspaper.

Measure provides protection for female violence victims

Student activists and university officials are pressuring Congress to swiftly renew legislation that provides protections for female victims of violence.

The bill, which originally passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005, has been at a standstill since late May when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives narrowly passed a version that does not include several provisions that explicitly apply to college students and minorities. Several lawmakers, university officials and students said the additional measures in the Senate’s bill are necessary for ensuring the safety and well-being of all students.

The House’s Violence Against Women Act — which passed along party lines despite a veto threat from the White House — rolls back key protections for college campuses, undocumented immigrants, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and Native Americans.

“Frankly, I think it’s shameful,” said U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who voted against the bill. “The bill works, but unfortunately this year the House version is extremely partisan. … House leaders are simply refusing to bring [the] Senate version for a vote.”

The act Senate lawmakers passed requires colleges to provide clear protocol and disciplinary policies to report cases of domestic violence, dating violence and sexual assault. It also establishes federal prevention programs for students and requires colleges to help victims report incidents to law enforcement, seek protective orders if they choose and change academic living and transportation arrangements when necessary.

This campus’ inclusivity would allow the university’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program to expand its prevention programs and increase on-campus awareness, said SAARP coordinator Fatima Burns. Under its current Department of Justice grant — a three-year, half-million-dollar grant shared with Bowie State University — SARPP holds mandatory education programs for all first years and has reached out to other programs, including the athletics department.

However, with recent staff cuts and dependence on volunteers and internships partners, funding continues to be a challenge.

“If the Senate version is re-authorized, it would be a step in the right direction for SARPP,” Burns said.

The House version also doesn’t include protections for LGBT victims of domestic violence and limits the number of temporary visas offered to women who cooperate in legal investigations, which some fear would discourage immigrants from reporting abuses. It also makes it harder for Native American women to seek justice against their abusers by allowing protection orders only from U.S. courts, not from within the tribal legal system.

PrideAlliance and other student groups, including UMD Feminists for Sexual Health and the UMD American Indian Student Union, said they plan to advocate for those protections when they return to the campus.

“If people know there needs to be an act passed to help stop this type of violence, they will realize that it is a big problem,” said sophomore criminology and criminal justice and psychology major Jill Santos, vice president of UMD Feminists for Sexual Health. “Violence against women is an epidemic that is hugely ignored — overlooking this issue, blaming the victims and letting down such a huge population is not OK.”

Although Burns said university awareness of sexual violence is improving, an estimated 13.1 percent of college women report having been stalked during the school year, according to a 2000 survey by the National Institute of Justice; nearly one in five women has been raped, according to a 2011 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and one in three American Indian women has been raped or has experienced an attempted rape, according to a 2012 report by the Justice Department.

But some student activists said while campus awareness was essential, advocacy would be more challenging for seemingly marginalized groups such as the Native American and LGBT community.

“The bill is at a standstill simply because the House does not want to provide legal rights to LGBT victims of abuse, thereby cementing the continuous fact that the LGBT community continues to be treated as second class,” said Rodrigo Lazada, a junior architecture major and co-president of the PrideAlliance.

AISU’s historian and public relations manager, Chemia Hughes, said Native American women already face an uphill climb in informing the public about their culture — advocating for victims’ rights may be even more difficult.

“Part of the issue with informing the public about issues such as this is the fact that Native people are stereotyped and demonized in the media, making it less likely for them to garner sympathy from the general public,” the senior family science major said.

Nonetheless, Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Education Assistant Director Dottie Chicquelo said she hopes the bill would pave the way for the improvement of disenfranchised communities. The act should have been implemented without delay and partisan deadlock, she said.

“As I look at the progress made since the signing of VAWA in 1994, my Native American Indian sisters and others are still struggling,” Chicquelo said.

TAKE ACTION TODAY: Sign our petition. Tell Congress to pass the REAL, Senate approved, bipartisan, inclusive VAWA. The House version of VAWA prevents us from moving forward in our fight against violence. We can’t let Congress pass this VAWA imposter. We need your help.

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