“Time’s Up” for VAWA


On Friday, Jan. 25, the federal government was reopened after 35 days of being shut down.  It currently holds the record for the longest government shutdown in American history.

Because of this shutdown, over 800,000 federal workers were furloughed or worked without pay.  The shutdown might have been easy to ignore because many of us are not federal workers, nor do we have profound connections to them.  But, especially if you are a woman, you must not ignore the implications of the shutdown because it could have a devastating impact on your livelihood and your rights.

At midnight on Dec. 22, 2018, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) expired.  VAWA is a landmark piece of legislation drafted by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) and signed into action by then-President Bill Clinton in 1994 which protects victims of sexual assault, especially those involved in intimate partner violence.  

VAWA includes provisions such as rape shield laws, meaning if a sexual assault survivor presses charges against a rapist, the defense attorney cannot cross-examine the survivor regarding his or her previous sexual history.  Furthermore, VAWA ensures funding for rape crisis centers and hotlines and funding for victims of color, immigrant victims and undocumented victims, among several other resources.

VAWA’s funding was due to be renewed and allocated appropriately when its expiration drew closer in December 2018.  But because the government was shut down when it expired, that was not done, and now, the law remains defunct. Furthermore, VAWA is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice, which was one of the agencies affected by the shutdown.

Because this paper serves a college community, sexual assault remains one of the topics du jour (as it should be).  But just to serve as a refresher, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), someone is sexually assaulted in the United States every 98 seconds, and 90 percent of all rape victims are women.  The resources provided by VAWA are absolutely essential to this group of victimized people, and now that it has expired, the resources are much less accessible.

VAWA also protects victims of domestic violence, which are addressed, albeit to a lesser extent, on college campuses.  Because of that, many students might believe that domestic violence is a less-crucial issue because it is not emphasized as much in a college setting, and is discussed seldomly otherwise.  But that could not be further from the truth.

According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control in 2017, over half of all murdered women in America are killed in connection with intimate partner violence.  Furthermore, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in seven men are victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a direct danger to women across America, because every day, three women are murdered by an intimate partner.  

Remember the days immediately following the 2016 election, when people who opposed President Trump’s election said that people would die because of it?  This is exactly what they were talking about.

Too many Americans are already victimized by the epidemic proportions of domestic violence and sexual assault, and that number will now increase because the desperately needed provisions that would aid and protect victims have been nullified by VAWA’s expiration.  The number of people murdered by domestic violence every day will increase because the president would rather throw a hissy fit over a border wall rather than protect some of American society’s most vulnerable people.

A cornerstone of President Trump’s ethic is “America first.”  But this is clearly not the case, because his own citizens will die because of his obstinacy.

Now that the government has reopened and will remain that way until at least Feb. 15, the time to act is now.  Call your senators and House representatives, and ensure the renewal of VAWA remains a top priority while the government is still open.  

VAWA has saved lives in the past, and if it is renewed, it will continue to do so.