It’s been almost a year since the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) should have been reauthorized, but wasn’t. VAWA has proven to be a political minefield. Members who dare criticize VAWA, however justifiably, are accused of being callous about violence and protecting women.
This past spring, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of VAWA, H.R. 1585. Now, after months of work toward a bipartisan compromise bill in the Senate, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) announced on the Senate floor that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pulled out of any compromise. And today Feinstein introduced basically the Democrat’s House bill. But this partisan Democrat bill is simply not good enough for our women and girls.
Neither the House nor the Senate bills seriously address — and sometimes don’t even mention — those breathtakingly awful forms of violence against women that are politically incorrect to mention among some on the left. That is no excuse.
Young women and girls are suffering today from female genital mutilation (FGM), honor killings, sex trafficking and becoming child brides. As for measures to address and deter these horrific practices in the Democrat’s VAWA bills? Not there.
Conservatives should vocally denounce these practices, insist on their serious inclusion in VAWA, and demand that any Democrat who won’t address them explain why.
Political correctness should never take precedence over protecting women, particularly when the consequences are women being mutilated, raped and murdered.
The Senate GOP should take this opportunity to give us a better VAWA. To protect women and girls from these horrific practices, they should make certain that VAWA includes: severe penalties, training in schools and of law enforcement, social services, a hotline, safe homes, a no-fly list inclusion for perpetrators, reporting requirements with easily accessible data regarding these crimes, and acknowledgement by refugees and immigrants that these are our laws.
Radical ideologues may object, but American women think these protections are obvious and essential. Conservatives must champion measures to help survivors and those at risk overcome the harms they face, and make clear that the abhorrent cultural practices that our men and women die fighting against abroad are not acceptable here.
The first job of government is the safety and security of all its citizens. These problems are real and growing, so funding for an expanded VAWA needs to reflect that. Our young women and girls are facing serious threats, and they need serious help from their government.
Yet there have been too many instances over the years of VAWA funding being spent inappropriately and money not getting to those who need it most. A better VAWA should require transparency and accountability about all VAWA fund outlays. If someone objects, let them explain why they oppose this.
Transparency and accountability are the first and necessary steps to better administering VAWA now, preventing funds from being diverted for partisan purposes, and ensuring women are best served.
Moreover, transparency about fund outlays will make the next reauthorization of VAWA far better informed. That is the least we can do for our women and girls.
Those serving in the U.S. Senate can fight undeniable violence against women by modernizing this 25-year-old bill and making it responsive to today’s threats. Further, they can make sure that funding will be effective and constructive.
The question isn’t whether VAWA passes in some form or another, but whether it passes yet again as an uncontested gift to the political left, or whether a better version passes that truly champions and protects women and girls.
If Democrats remain too scared to seriously address honor killings, child brides, female mutilation, and sex trafficking, as well as accountability and transparency, then they should be held to account in next year’s election. Let them make that case to their voters — women will be watching.
Andrea G. Bottner is senior adviser to Independent Women’s Forum and former acting director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women.
Heather R. Higgins is the CEO of Independent Women’s Voice.