Legislation to re-authorize and expand the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed in the U.S. House last Friday in a 263-158 vote. But even in the wake of this most recent victory, the future of VAWA remains uncertain—and the fight for women’s lives remains as urgent.
First introduced to Congress in 1994, this marks the latest development in the fourth fight to reauthorization the groundbreaking law protecting victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, stalking and other forms of gender-based violence. The most recent iteration of VAWA expands and re-affirms the scope of the historic law: It maintains protections currently in place for immigrant survivors and now also allows gender identity to dictate placement in shelters and prisons, rather than biological sex—making room for trans women in its umbrella of protections.
“I am pleased that the U.S. House has reauthorized VAWA,” Feminist Majority Foundation President (and publisher of Ms.) Eleanor Smeal told the Feminist Newswire, “but our work is far from over.” Smeal and other feminist leaders are now urging activists to reach out to Senators in support of VAWA.
The vote on VAWA in the House was largely divided along partisan lines, with only 33 of 190 Republicans in the chamber voting for reauthorization. That divide was shaped by escalating pressure from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which is urging lawmakers to reject VAWA’s reauthorization because of a new provision that would block any person convicted of stalking or physical abuse from purchasing a firearm.
The NRA is instead advocating for upholding what advocates call the “boyfriend loophole“—a gap in existing policies that allows abusers who aren’t married, cohabitating with or parenting with their victims, as well as stalkers, to maintain access to firearms despite charges of violence and harassment. NRA spokesperson Jennifer Baker event went as far as to minimize the dangers of stalking and relationship violence in an interview with the New York Times.
“We didn’t elect NRA lobbyists to write our nation’s gun laws or to protect marginalized and vulnerable women,” Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America founder and president Shannon Watts said in a statement. “We elected Congress to do that—and, thanks to the most diverse class of representatives in our nation’s history, they did.”