Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP



Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act

She was sexually violated. She was too frightened to report. She testified about what happened before the Senate Judiciary Committee, only to have her testimony be challenged and her character judged. Yes, this is the story of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and also that of Ms. Anita Hill, who bravely testified in 1991 against then-Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas. Out of that moment in U.S. history, the Year of the Woman followed and Congress wrote into law the Violence Against Women Act.

Women all across the country are showing courage and bravery in speaking out against violence. However, in spite of the momentum of the #MeToo movement, Congress has failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Instead, President Trump has approved a short-term extension to December 7th under a stop-gap spending bill. A short-term extension is not enough. Women deserve better. Women’s rights are human rights. Congress must act.

Violence against women is a global pandemic that affects 1 in 3 women in their lifetime. According to the World Bank, 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence. These statistics show not only harm to women and children but damage to society. The protection of women is crucial to the development of human rights, and global security.

Here at home, the statistics are equally devastating. Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused. In the United States, 1 in 5 women are raped in their lifetime, Nearly 20 million women in the U.S. are stalked in their lifetime. Violence against women impacts a victim’s mental and physical health, as well as their economic well-being.

Sexual assault and domestic violence cases are difficult to prosecute. They rely heavily on the victim’s testimony. Victims are traumatized, triggered, and re-victimized, from the moment they decide to report the incident which could lead to a possible conviction. During this process victims can incur long-lasting effects to their mental, psychological and physical well-being. To successfully prosecute these crimes, the involvement of the victim is key. Therefore, having services available for the victim is important, and failure to provide these services sends a message to the perpetrator that he might get away with the crime.

The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act would provide further support services for women who have suffered violence. The bill helps victims stay in stable housing and bars evictions that are based only on the actions of the abuser. Loss of housing often leads toward a path of more violence. In Washington D.C. alone, almost 63% of women report acts of violence committed against them during periods of homelessness or housing instability.

The bill expands gun control laws by prohibiting individuals convicted of dating violence or stalking from legally possessing firearms. The bill is also more inclusive of diverse communities by granting temporary visas to undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence, extending protections to Native American women, and including LBGT couples in domestic violence cases. In addition, it increases youth education and prevention programs, to provide youth with knowledge about dating violence and what to do if they are ever confronted with a violent partner.

The Violence Against Women Act will cost an estimated $1.6 billion to implement, and some members of Congress view that as too much. However, crime victimization in the U.S. costs about $450 billion, and the Violence Against Women Act will avert $14.8 billion of those costs. At the individual level, the cost is only $15.50 per woman. Funds are used to run domestic violence programs, assist sexual assault and rape crisis centers, and provide services to victims and survivors of these crimes. Surely, we can afford the protection of women.

Every woman deserves access to services and protection. Every woman in America needs to know that she matters. The testimonies of Dr. Ford and Ms. Hill stand 27 years apart. The similar outcomes show that the fight for gender equality and the protection of women is far from over. There is so much more to do. We should start by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.