OUR OPINION: Violence Against Women Act has direct state impact

By Joe Rutherford/NEMS Daily Journal

A renewed and expanded version of the Violence Against Women Act passed the U.S. House late last week and is on its way to President Obama for his signature.
The law, passed in 1994 under the chief sponsorship of then Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, added the clout of the federal government to prosecution and protection for women (and some men) who were victims of domestic violence, a crime that has risen in frequency in the U.S. and other nations.
Mississippi’s congressional delegation split in voting on the renewal bill: Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker voted for passage, as did U.S. Reps. Bennie Thompson and Gregg Harper. Reps. Alan Nunnelee and Steven Palazzo voted against it. The Mississippi delegation’s bipartisan split for the bill was reflective of broader bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
The expanded reach of the renewed act includes protections for people in gay, lesbian and transgendered relationships, plus additional authority for Native American tribal courts to act against non-Native American spouses or domestic partners accused of domestic violence.
Renewal is important for Mississippi because about $5 million per year has been granted to anti-domestic violence programs in our state for several years, including the shelter in Tupelo named SAFE, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and both Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi.
As described by the Human Rights Campaign, “VAWA is the primary federal law providing legal protection and services to counter domestic abuse, sexual violence, and stalking. Congress has reauthorized VAWA twice since it originally passed in 1994.
The Senate passed S. 47, a bipartisan bill to renew VAWA, with 78 votes on February 12. The House approved S. 47 with a vote of 286 to 138. The House took the vote after rejecting another bill that would have watered down protections for victims.”
The program nationwide is representative of programs funded in Mississippi:
• Federal rape shield law
• Community violence prevention programs
• Protections for female victims who are evicted from their homes because of events related to domestic violence or stalking
• Funding for victim assistance services, like rape crisis centers and hotlines
• Programs to meet the needs of immigrant women and women of different races or ethnicities
• Programs and services for female victims with disabilities
• Legal aid for female survivors of violence
The new law “must reach all victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in every community in the country,” reflective of stronger focus to include homosexual and American Indian victims and assailants, an undeniable cultural phenomenon, which merits the law’s reach.