REP. ROYBAL-ALLARD DENOUNCES PARTISAN VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT
May 16, 2012 -
Today, the US House of Representatives passed the Republican Violence Against Women Act, a partisan bill that excluded specific groups of women from receiving services related to domestic violence. Congresswoman Roybal-Allard gave the following remarks for the record during debate on the bill:
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong opposition to H.R. 4970, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). While I agree with my colleagues that we must reauthorize VAWA, I cannot support this version of the bill given the numerous ways it fails to protect women and families.
Despite the significant progress we have made as a nation addressing violence against women, nearly one third of women in the U.S. still report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend in their lifetime. Domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking lead to severe social, health, and economic consequences for our communities, with the estimated cost of violence exceeding 70 billion dollars each year.
Historically, each time VAWA has come up for reauthorization, Congress has added beneficial provisions to the bill and passed it with strong bipartisan support. In 2005, we included language referencing culturally and linguistically specific services to help eliminate barriers for many racial and ethnic minorities. My colleagues and I also successfully included a new health title in the last VAWA reauthorization that strengthened our health care system’s capacity to prevent violence and develop effective interventions to abuse.
The version of VAWA before us today threatens to roll back those gains and limit protections for victims, ultimately endangering their safety in life-threatening ways. H.R. 4970 omits provisions in the Senate-passed bill that ensure equal treatment and access to services for LGBT survivors. It denies justice for tribal women abused by non-Indians, negating the reality that Native American women suffer domestic violence at epidemic proportions, but remain largely unprotected under current law. It also jeopardizes the personal security of victims who rely on public housing by forcing some to choose between swiftly moving away from an abuser and losing their housing subsidy.
Equally egregious, H.R. 4970 eradicates protections that have benefited immigrant women for nearly twenty years. The legislation creates barriers for immigrant crime victims seeking U-visas and silences those who fear deportation. H.R. 4970 overturns the current ability of immigrant victims of domestic violence to confidentially self-petition for permanent residency, thereby returning power to abusive U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident spouses who wield their status as a tool of dominance and control. Since VAWA’s inception in 1994, nearly 75,000 self-petitions have been approved for immigrant victims who would have otherwise remained dependent on an abusive spouse to adjust their status. We cannot reverse course on this important self-petition provision and turn our backs on immigrant women and families.
I am also disappointed that, yet again, provisions to alleviate the economic factors that keep victims in abusive relationships have not been included. For the last 16 years, I have introduced legislation, the Security and Financial Empowerment Act (SAFE Act), to address this issue. The SAFE Act extends eligibility for unemployment benefits to victims forced to leave their jobs due to circumstances stemming from domestic violence, allows victims to take unpaid leave to make court appearances and seek necessary assistance, and it prohibits employers or insurance providers from basing hiring or coverage on an individual’s history of abuse. These provisions ensure that domestic violence survivors have the financial security they need to escape an abusive situation. Failing to address these economic concerns is just another way this legislation fails to adequately protect survivors of domestic violence.
It’s unfortunate that Republicans are playing politics with women’s lives and pushing a bill that deviates so sharply from the kind of VAWA reauthorization that victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking truly need. Hundreds of organizations across the country have opposed H.R. 4970 on the grounds that it harms our families and communities.
Unconscionably, the GOP appears more concerned about advancing a political agenda than listening to the American people. This is grossly insensitive to the lived experiences of those who tragically find themselves in abusive situations and count on our support.
Victim safety is at the core of VAWA and always has been. I cannot in good conscience vote to pass this version of VAWA, as it erases 18 years of bipartisan efforts to respond to the needs of victims of domestic violence. I urge my colleagues to join me in voting this bill down so that we may consider an alternative VAWA reauthorization proposal that improves protections for all survivors, including immigrant women and other vulnerable populations.