Congress renews LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act

Yesterday, Congress reauthorized the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), including new provisions to protect gays and lesbians, immigrants, and Native Americans. On February 28, 2013, the House adopted the bill passed by the Senate in early February. It now goes to the President for signature.

Under VAWA, the Federal government provides grants to states and local communities with funds to assist:

  1. law enforcement agencies in prosecuting crimes of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence, and,
  2. local agencies in providing services to victims of these crimes, such as residential shelters and rape crisis centers. 

The reauthorization also includes a new non-discrimination provision ensuring that grant recipients don’t discriminate against people on the basis of “race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.” This provision will help ensure that law enforcement agencies and community service providers don’t discriminate against male or female victims of rape, sexual assault or domestic violence regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The reauthorization also makes eligible for grant funds programs that provide services to male victims and to victims who previously had difficulty accessing services due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, it provides for services to victims who are immigrants and protects against the deportation of immigrant victims during the prosecution of crimes against them. It also provides that crimes of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence committed by non-Native Americans against Native Americans occurring on tribal reservations may be prosecuted in tribal courts.

Congress attempted to renew VAWA last year. In 2012, the Senate passed a bill similar to the 2013 renewal. The House also passed a reauthorization last year, but it did not include provisions to protect gays, lesbians, immigrants, and Native Americans despite warnings from President Obama that he would veto any bill that failed to include these provisions. The House and Senate were unable to reconcile their bills and efforts to reauthorize VAWA failed in the last Congress.

The 2013 reauthorization passed with the unanimous support of 199 House Democrats along with 87 Republican members. 138 House Republicans voted in opposition. It is expected that the President will sign the reauthorization.

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