While Congress passed a resolution this week in recognition and support of October as “Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” it left uncertain legislation renewing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is set to expire September 30, according to the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C.
The House on September 28, by a 415-to-4 margin, approved bipartisan Justice Department legislation that reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act. The legislation, H.R. 3402, was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), who is also an Episcopalian. The U.S. Senate was expected to take up the legislation Friday, but as of press time, debate had not occurred.
Nearly one in four women experiences at least one physical assault by an intimate partner during her adult life. Domestic violence is the largest cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. In addition, according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, domestic violence costs the country $5.8 billion a year in health care expenditures and lost productivity.
Reauthorizing VAWA would renew critical programs while responding to evolving community needs by expanding funding for local groups working with underserved communities particularly communities of color, legal immigrants, the disabled, elderly and Native Americans. It would allow development of innovative VAWA programs to ensure that victims and their children can obtain safe housing, ensure job security, receive legal assistance and provide a safe workplace. The reauthorizing legislation would also create the Sexual Assault Services Act and give Congress a unique opportunity to help children and youth who experience or witness violence.
The Episcopal Church has strongly supported this legislation since its inception in 1994. In that year the 71st General Convention of the Episcopal Church passed a resolution urging "adequate government funding and support for research and development, prevention and treatment in matters affecting the health and quality of life of women, including domestic violence." In 2000, the year of VAWA’s first reauthorization, the 73rd General Convention reaffirmed and expanded that support by calling the church to address these important issues within its own community.
“If the Senate fails to act, a number of these programs could face cuts or total elimination” said John Johnson, domestic policy analyst in the government relations office in Washington.
Episcopalians earlier this month responded to an Episcopal Public Policy Network alert by sending thousands of e-mails to Congress in support of VAWA reauthorization.