Washington, DC – Women last week welcomed the news that Congress voted to reauthorize the bill, which was first passed in 1994 to help victims of rape and domestic violence find safety, care and justice. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed the House with a vote of 286-138 and President Barack Obama was expected to sign it once it got to his desk.
Welcoming the passage of the law, President Obama said in a statement, “Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk.”
With a sigh of relief, Tiloma Jayasinghe, the executive director of Sakhi, an organization which addresses domestic violence within the South Asian community, said, “Finally! The House voted 286-138 for reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This is a historic moment for many underserved groups in the US. For the first time, VAWA has introduced specific provisions which protect immigrant, LGBTQ, and Native American survivors of violence in the United States.”
Roopa Unnikrishnan, founder of Center10 Consulting, which focuses on strategy, innovation and talent issues, told India America Today, “As someone who chose to live in this amazing country, I remember being shocked that such a critical set of legal protections were left to the vagaries of populist maneuvering – shocked and disappointed.”
“When you consider that, historically, as many as 34 percent of Native American women are raped, the cruelty of lawmakers who see this as some kind of budget and jurisdiction issue means they aren’t thinking about the history of this country or basic humanity,” added Unnikrishnan, a former Board Chair of Sakhi. She stated that it was imperative “to take such critical protections out of the hands of the morally bankrupt.”
Mallika Dutt, president of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization, told India America Today, “The passage of VAWA is a critical victory for all of us who care about women’s human rights. Ensuring that women who are victims of violence have access to legal protection should never be a partisan political issue.”
Looking forward to the upcoming immigration reforms, Dutt added, “And as we move into passage of comprehensive immigration reform, I hope that we keep the rights of immigrant women front and center.”
Commenting on the passage, Ami Bera, the only Indian American Congressman, said in a statement, “As a doctor who has cared for victims of sexual violence and the father of a teenage daughter, I am relieved that Congress has done the right thing and passed this crucial legislation.”
Bera continued, “The passage of VAWA sends a clear message that domestic violence will not be tolerated. No woman should ever have to live in fear.”
Vice President Joe Biden, who was instrumental in the passage of the 1994 bill, welcomed the latest reauthorization, saying, “Since VAWA first passed in 1994, we have seen a 64 percent reduction in domestic violence. I am pleased that this progress will continue, with new tools for cops and prosecutors to hold abusers and rapists accountable, and more support for all victims of these crimes.”
Jayasinghe summarized Sakhi’s recent successful interventions, saying, “As a community-based organization providing services to survivors of violence from the South Asian community in NYC, last year we responded to more then 2000 calls on our helpline, and provided direct services to more than 580 survivors of violence in areas such as immigration support, accessing shelter, housing, public benefits and counseling. Ninety-seven percent of the women we work with are recent immigrants, and 10 percent are undocumented.”
The act provides support for organizations which serve domestic violence victims. Criminal prosecutions of abusers are generally the responsibility of local authorities, but the act stiffened sentences for stalking under federal law.