The government shutdown has done some significant damage to the infrastructure of our daily lives. Federal workers aren’t getting paid; individuals will not be able to receive their refund checks, the US debt ceiling is getting higher and higher among many other things. The expiration of the Violence Against Women Act has been one of the high profile losses experienced during the partial government shutdown. Since it passed in 1994, it has served as a form of protection for women in the workforce and beyond. The dismissal of this act has placed women in a vulnerable position that could breed terrible consequences.
The history of the Violence Against Women Act dates back to 1992, “the year after Anita Hill testified before Congress during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings” (NPR). After the hearing, there was an influx of women that decided to enter the political arena, much like what we see today with the record number of women being elected to Congressional seats. The women who were elected that year contributed to the passing of the 1994 VAWA. The act was in response to the court systems not providing proper protection to women victims of violence. VAWA “included provisions on rape and battering that focused on prevention, funding for victim services and evidentiary matters” (Legal Momentum). Since its induction, it has undergone expansion revisions within Congress including the Violence Against Women Act of 2000 and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005. The expansion included groundbreaking legislation including protections against sexual assault, victims of dating violence, and also allowed domestic violence victims to obtain custody orders across state lines in case it is unsafe to return to the abusers’ state residence. Providing funds to programs that are safe havens for victims is also apart of the act, allowing for communities to combat violence against women through whatever methods deemed appropriate. Protecting women’s physical and emotional well-being is at stake, and the expiration of this enactment can lend to a dangerous trend returning into the fold.
In 2013, when the bill was set to be reauthorized there were some Republicans who had a hard time accepting the new revisions. There were specific mentions of protections for Native Americans, as well as, lesbian and gay individuals. The reauthorization was eventually passed but not without opposition. This would be a foreshadowing to what has just transpired with the government shutdown. Upon its expiration date on September 30, 2018, it was extended to December 7 and then continued again through a short-term bill to December 21, which then led into the shutdown. Fortunately, “grants already awarded before the shutdown will not be affected, but future payments for anti-domestic and anti-sexual violence programs funded by VAWA will be cut off until the legislation is reauthorized” (Huffington Post). Without this piece of legislation, it dramatically affects the power dynamics between women and men in this country. The days of not acting on sexual violence need to be over, and any contribution to the contrary will set us back many years. Women should always feel safe within their environment if not, this leads to a constant state of fear.
Being the first bill to acknowledge violence against women, the VAWA is vital to the protection of women’s rights. Providing funds to these much-needed programs is essential. Depending on when the government shutdown will cease, women’s lives could be at risk for every minute it doesn’t re-open.