Joined by victims’ advocates and domestic abuse survivors, Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth is calling on House Republican leaders to bring the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act up for a vote.
The bill ensures $659 million in federal funding over five years, and pays for services and legal aide for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. It recently passed the Senate with a bipartisan 78-22 vote, but has lingered in the GOP-controlled House.
Yarmuth says it has been more than 500 days since lawmakers allowed the act to expire, and federal money for organizations such as the Louisville-based Center for Women & Families remain uncertain.
“In that time nearly 290,000 Americans, more than 90 percent of them women have been raped or sexually assaulted. That is appalling, and it is unconscionable that Congress has not reauthorized one of the most successful programs in combating this violence,” he says.
Enacted in 1994, VAWA provides $4 million for 45 different organizations agencies across Kentucky. Those funds help victims through the court process, pay for shelters and provide counseling.
In Louisville, that’s about $700,000 for groups such as Catholic Charities, which use the funds to combat human trafficking. Those advocates warned that if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the act, important staff and services will be cut.
“We saw 6,748 people last year directly with 84 full-time staff and about 20 more part-time staff. That’s a lot of people that our staff sees,” says Marta Miranda, executive director of the Center for Women and Families. “Imagine cutting four or six positions as a result of that—not acceptable.”
Miranda’s group receives around $100,000 annually from VAWA funding.
Yarmuth urged residents to pressure other members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation such as Republican Congressmen Thomas Massie and Brett Guthrie.
Among the 22 votes opposed to the bill in the Senate were Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.
Speaking at a press conference in downtown Louisville, Paul cited federal overreach as the reasoning behind his no vote and said many are trying to use VAWA as a wedge issue.
“I think many of the things that the Violence Against Women Act want to accomplish are better accomplished at a local level,”Paul told WFPL.
“There’s not a civilized person in our country who is not against violence against women,” he says. “The bill that we had that I opposed was $600 million in spending that would be borrowed from China. So even if it’s a good and noble cause that I support, I still have to ask myself can we borrow the money from China for it.”
A spokesman from McConnell’s office told The Courier-Journal he had previously supported VAWA, but was concerned because certain criminal penalties were removed.
Other GOP lawmakers have opposed the measure in part because it now includes illegal immigrants, Native American tribes and same-sex couples. Those opponents argue it shows that Democrats have put their liberal social agenda over protecting victims.
But supporters says excluding individuals from protections is discriminatory, and all those groups experience domestic abuse.
“From a moral perspective there is no difference between someone who is raped or sexually assaulted on a reservation or in a migrant worker camp or in a gay and lesbian situation,” says Yarmuth. “These are human beings (and) they deserve the same protection as everyone.”
Earlier this month, over a dozen GOP lawmakers wrote Speaker John Boehner and called for “immediate action” saying VAWA saves lives.
Yarmuth says he is confident the bill would pass overwhelmingly if House leaders allowed a vote.