Written by Anthony Moujaes
As part of the celebration of the United Church of Christ's Women's Week in February, the UCC is asking Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and ensure protections for all victims of violent crimes.
Senate Bill 47 (S. 47) is a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize the landmark Violence Against Women Act. The bill, introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), closely mirrors the legislation introduced last year in the Senate, and would improve VAWA programs and strengthen protections for all victims of violence.
Sandy Sorensen, the director of the UCC's Washington D.C. office, said the act "has had strong bipartisan support in its enactment and subsequent authorizations, which makes it all the more disappointing that Congress failed to reauthorize this vital legislation last year."
The 112th Congress failed to pass a reauthorized VAWA, despite the hard work from advocates to advance a version of the bill from the Senate floor. That version included important improvements to address housing, campus sexual assault provisions, and other needed enhancements for programs serving communities of color, immigrants, victims in tribal communities and LGBT survivors of violence. The House passed a watered-down version of the act that did not include protections for vulnerable populations. Despite a last-minute push in the lame duck session to reach an agreement on a final bill, the reauthorization did not pass.
The new legislation before Congress would increase VAWA's effectiveness and extend support to communities that lack violence prevention and response programs at the local level.
"Women impacted by violence can't afford to wait any longer," Sorensen said. "It is time for Congress to act."
The VAWA was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005 before it expired in September 2011. S. 47 would provide a five-year authorization for VAWA programs and reduce funding levels by $135 million from the 2005 levels. The bill was first enacted 20 years ago, and the UCC has consistently supported its reauthorization.
"The United Church of Christ has stood firmly in support of the Violence Against Women Act when it was first approved by Congress in 1995," said the Rev. Lois A. Powell, executive assistant to the general minister and president and an advocate of women's right for the UCC's national offices. "It was the first piece of comprehensive legislation that released federal funds for programs that addressed both the prevention of domestic violence and support for victims of such violence. Improvements over subsequent years in VAWA reauthorizations have expanded these services to men, children, and marginalized communities with essential resources that otherwise would not have been possible."
During the UCC's Women's Week from Feb. 3-9, the denomination will promote a justice advocacy action, asking members of the church around the country to contact Congress in support of VAWA.
Want to tell Congress to move on this bill? The UCC has set up a site to get your voice out to government leaders in D.C.