Yesterday women in the US Senate took to the floor of the Senate to demand quick action on legislation to improve and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, (VAWA), S. 1925. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), the majority leader, has suggested he will push for a vote by the end of March.
On November 30, 2011, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced the VAWA reauthorization bill. This bill is a landmark piece of legislation that seeks to improve criminal justice and community-based responses to the pervasive crimes of domestic violence against women and families, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in the United States. First passed by Congress in 1994 by then Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), VAWA was the first piece of federal legislation that acknowledges domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes and provides federal resources to respond to and prevent violence against women. Through subsequent five-year reauthorizations, VAWA has been expanded and improved to meet the needs of victims of dating violence, stalking and to provide programs and services for Native American women and immigrant, rural, disabled, and older victims.
The legislation calls for many important improvements to the law. It increases the availability of free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, extends the definition of violence against women to include stalking, and provides training for civil and criminal court personnel to deal with families with a history of violence, and extends housing protections for victims, including families. It also allows more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, and includes same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence.