The House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Democratic Party, voted April 14 to reinstate the Violence Against Women Act, also known as VAWA. The re-authorization act passed in the House by a vote of 265-158.
The act was originally established in 1994 under then-President Bill Clinton. It was largely advocated by then-Senator Joe Biden and Rep. Louise Slaughter.
VAWA provided financial assistance to programs that encouraged the prevention and prosecution of abusers of women in domestic relationships. VAWA was able to gain traction initially because of the contributions and persistence of sexual assault advocates and law enforcement agencies.
The historic legislation has normally been renewed every five years since its introduction, but earlier this year Congress allowed VAWA to expire because of the act’s exclusion from a large spending bill in February, resulting in the end of the partial government shutdown.
During each re-authorization, legislators have tried to extend the reach of VAWA by closing loopholes older versions may or may not have included. In 2013, it was modified to include individuals in same-sex relationships.
Deborah Clubb—the executive director of the Memphis Area Women’s Council, an organization that serves as a refuge and voice for female domestic violence victims—said she thinks VAWA’s re-authorization will be difficult to come by, considering the powerful opponents of the bill.
“The National Rifle Association represents the main opposition of the passing of the bill,” Clubb said. “There are people within that group whom feel that re-authorizing the bill will prohibit offenders of domestic abuse from possessing firearms, and that is something members within the NRA refuse to permit.”
In the most recent rendition of VAWA, which Clubb was referring to, Democrats within the House of Representatives and Congress prioritized the closure of the boyfriend loophole, which originally permitted relationship partners convicted of domestic abuse to possess firearms.
While 33 Republicans crossed the aisle in the House of Representatives to vote in favor of VAWA, the GOP-controlled Senate wants to have the act shot down.
“I hope the bill is passed because domestic violence has become extended to people who aren’t even experiencing abuse yet know people who have been impacted by abuse,” Clubb said. “Domestic violence is an epidemic that is abundant in Shelby County. We have the worst rates of domestic abuse among any county in the state of Tennessee, so the authorization of the bill further shows a movement to support all people who are victims of domestic abuse.”
Shante Avant, the deputy director of the Women’s Foundation for Greater Memphis, said she thinks the bill’s re-authorization provides better protection for those in potentially harmful domestic situations.
“Government support shows that there actually is a movement to bind spousal and relationship abuse and removing it from society,” Avant said. “Providing the public with as much awareness as possible shows there are people in power who want to see change.”