Last year I represented a woman named Sheila who had recently escaped her marriage to her abusive husband, Joe. She met him college and fell in love, but soon he became controlling, mean and violent. Sheila tried to have them attend marriage counseling, but their relationship did not improve. Joe prevented her from seeing her family, threatened her, and often punched and kicked her. When she told him she wanted to end the relationship, he warned her that he would have her deported and take their children so that she would never see them again. Because Sheila was undocumented–having been brought to the United States when she was nine–she took his threats seriously.
Sheila finally found the courage to leave Joe when she feared he would hurt the children. Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) we helped her petition for legal status (which she was already entitled to, based on her marriage to Joe, a U.S. Citizen) and free herself and her children from a life of violence and intimidation. She is now working legally and attending school, and hopes to become a lawyer one day.
VAWA is at the heart of the services HRI provides for women and children who are survivors of domestic violence and violent crime. Since it was enacted in 1994, it has enjoyed broad bipartisan support and provided life-saving assistance to millions of women and children. The law should have been reauthorized in 2012, but the Senate and House could not agree on a version, and the 2012 Congressional session expired with nothing being done.
HRI joins a national coalition of organizations who work with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to call on Congress to end its partisan bickering and pass VAWA. Although the 2005 version of VAWA remains in force, and HRI can continue its crucial work protecting these courageous survivors, the current situation cannot continue indefinitely. Other service providers rely on VAWA funding and it is estimated that almost 200,000 people could lose services they desperately need if VAWA is not reauthorized. VAWA funding helps train law enforcement, health care professionals and many others on how to handle cases involving violence against women.
Last year the House passed a version of VAWA that hurt many marginalized populations and gutted it of several crucial protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and violent crime. Negotiations continued throughout 2012 but VAWA was not reauthorized because Republican leadership would not allow the House to vote on the Senate bill.
We believe Congress must act on VAWA and soon. Immigrant women and children, as well as other groups helped by VAWA, deserve VAWA’s protections. This is a basic human rights issue that should not be politicized. If you believe that Congress should make passage of VAWA a priority in 2013, please contact your representatives and let them know their support of this important law is needed.
To learn more about VAWA and its reauthorization, please see http://4vawa.org/ and