Let's Renew VAWA Today

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., speaks in support of Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, T
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., speaks in support of Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Today, Congress has an historic opportunity to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). It has been more than 500 days since VAWA expired and women have gone without critically important protections. Despite the fact that last year the Senate voted on a large bipartisan basis to renew VAWA, the House Republican leadership blocked a vote on that bill and instead pursued a highly partisan plan that actually narrowed VAWA's protections.

Last week, the Senate again passed a bipartisan bill (S. 47) to reauthorize VAWA and today my colleagues and I in the House may finally get the vote we have been waiting for. The Senate bill renews and expands VAWA's protections and also includes several new provisions I have been pushing for years to help rape victims, reduce violence on college campuses and assist human trafficking victims.

The facts are indisputable and they are grim. Women are far more likely than men to be the victims of domestic violence. Women are the ones being beaten. Women are the ones being raped. Without VAWA, the federal government is extremely limited in what it can do help combat this plague of violence.

I was proud to be an original cosponsor of the Violence Against Women Act when Congress passed it in 1994, and was proud to support the previous renewals in 2000 and 2005. These bills always enjoyed large, bipartisan support.

Yet somehow in this sad new world of partisan politics and endless rancor, even the Violence Against Women Act has become a political football. But this is not about politics. It is about the single most fundamental task that we require of our government -- to keep its citizens safe from violent assault.

In America, we have long stood by the principle that the protections of the law are not meant just for some. The law should be there to keep all people safe. That is why I support the Senate bill's expansion of VAWA to protect vulnerable populations such as Native American victims, LGBT victims, and immigrant victims.

We know that long standing prejudices put these populations at risk. We know that without the specific protection of the law, they will continue to suffer. We cannot let these protections fall by the wayside.

I'm also incredibly proud that the Senate's VAWA bill includes two bipartisan bills I authored that will help keep women safe and do not cost any new money - The SAFER Act (H.R. 354), which I introduced with Rep. Ted Poe, and the Campus SaVE Act (H.R. 812).

According to some estimates, hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits are sitting on lab shelves across the country. Each and every one of these rape kits may hold the information to solve a violent crime and bring some closure to a traumatized victim. By creating a new grant mechanism to conduct audits of unprocessed kits so that the backlog can be tracked and reallocating funding already approved under the Debbie Smith Act so that more money is spent processing untested rape kits, the SAFER Act will help eliminate this backlog -- and apprehend more rapists.

My other bill included in the Senate's VAWA version, the Campus SaVE Act, will increase the obligations of colleges to keep students safe and informed about sexual assault policies. Recent studies have shown that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted during their college years. To keep our daughters safer, the bill requires colleges to collect and disclose information about sexual assault, and to update and expand domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking services on their campuses.

The Senate bill also reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, providing programs and services to help victims of human trafficking rebuild their lives. For years I have fought to end human trafficking in America and around the globe and I commend the Senate for including this amendment to end this modern day slavery.

When the House considers the Violence Against Women Act later today I will urge my colleagues to pass the Senate bill with the same overwhelming bipartisan support it received in the other chamber. We cannot to turn a blind eye to such a fundamental obligation of government, keeping its citizens safe. With today's vote on VAWA, the House has an opportunity to renew our nation's commitment to do everything we can to protect our sisters, daughters, nieces, mothers, and grandmothers from violence. I hope we take it.