Federal Protection for Women Sliding Backwards, Experts Warn

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Stop violence against women rally, Wash DC March 9 2013. Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr

Two of the country’s leading experts on women’s issues warn that federal efforts to prevent violence against women are in danger of sliding “backwards” under the Trump administration.

Current discussions in Washington over the anticipated reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) this year raise concerns about whether funding under the Act will cover the programs needed to help women experiencing intimate partner violence, a conference at John Jay College in New York was told Tuesday.

Bea Hanson

Bea Hanson. Photo by John Ramsey/TCR

Even the level of funds provided under the last reauthorization of the Act in 2013 is “at risk because (it) happened in the last administration,” said Bea Hanson, executive director of the NYC Domestic Violence Task Force. 

And those funds barely addressed all the needs of women under threat of sexual assault or abuse, added Hanson, who was previously Principal Deputy Director of the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice during the Obama Administration.

VAWA, passed in 1994, was the first piece of federal legislation designed to end violence against women. It was also a triumph for women’s groups that lobbied hard to persuade Congress to grant federal protection for women on the grounds that states were failing in their efforts to address this violence.

However, Lynn Rosenthal, who heads the Violence Against Women Initiative at the Biden Foundation, expressed concern that VAWA under the Trump administration would reduce protections for LGBTQ women and immigrant women.

“There’s a real fear that VAWA is moving backwards in 2018,” said Rosenthal, who served as the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women from 2009-2015.

The funds allocated under the 2013 reauthorization—$465 million—were barely enough to address the scope of the problem, she pointed out.

“We never funded the innovations we need,” she said, noting that the funds amounted to a “rounding error” compared to other expenditures in the federal budget—even as the threats faced by women continued to grow.

“While overall rates of domestic violence have dropped by 63 percent since VAWA was passed, still, one in three women will experience some form of abuse by an intimate partner in their life,” she said.

Notably, 70 percent of those women will be under the age of 25.

Lynn Rosenthal

Lynn Rosenthal. Photo by John Ramsey/TCR

“It’s a burden borne by young women,” said Rosenthal.

While the future of VAWA is unclear, the question of whether or not states could adequately protect women who are survivors of violence has emerged as another major concern. 

According to Hanson, the states shouldn’t be left with this responsibility.

The problem with the state’s response is that some communities would receive help, while others would not, she said.

“There would be a huge slot in the country where nothing is happening, and that is why we need the broad brush that the federal government can offer,” Hanson added.

Of the vulnerable population VAWA aims to protect, undocumented immigrant women living in the US should be at the forefront, argued experts at the conference.

“We forget about those who don’t speak English and had to leave their home because of the sexual violence they faced in their country,” said Rocío García, program coordinator at VIP Mujeres, a nonprofit New York-based advocacy group that works with immigrants.

Yet under the Trump administration, undocumented immigrants are at great risk of losing whatever protection they had previously under VAWA.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose duties include supervision of the nation’s immigration courts, is conducting a broad review to question whether domestic or sexual violence should ever be recognized as persecution that would justify protection in the United States.

With approximately 19 million immigrant women and girls in the US, VAWA offers three forms of protection to undocumented immigrant women: “U” visas for victims of crime; “T” visas for victims of severe forms of trafficking; and “self-petitioning” visas.

See also: How Safe Are ‘Sanctuary Cities’?

Rescinding provisions of VAWA that aid undocumented women would be a mistake, García argued. 

“We need immigration relief,” she said.

“America is supposed to be for all of us, but these undocumented immigrants who are victims of abuse are still afraid.”

The two-day conference for the media, scholars, practitioners, and advocates on “The Hidden Crime: Covering Domestic Violence,” was co sponsored by the New York City Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence and the John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice, publisher of The Crime Report.

The conference ends Wednesday.

Megan Hadley is a reporter for The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers. 

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