By Noel Gasca
Women across the world today are calling on global leaders and governments to take a stance on ending violence against women. Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and it’s led to protests, speeches, and the publication of studies addressing the issue.
Here in the United States, politicians and the public are urging lawmakers to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, the oldest federal law tied to investigating and prosecuting violent crimes against women.
Originally passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has been administered by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services. It was the first piece of federal legislation that acknowledged domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes, and aimed to provide federal funding to communities so they could coordinate solutions to combat violence.
The $1.6 billion dollar budget went towards programs and services like hiring and training police officers to recognize signs of domestic abuse, as well as funding victim assistance services like rape crisis centers and hotlines. This initial budget was set up to fund programs until 2000, when the act would need to be reauthorized by Congress. Since then, VAWA has been reauthorized again in 2005 and 2013.
As a result, domestic violence in America has dropped since the Act was passed. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of nonfatal domestic violence dropped 63 percent between 1994 and 2012. Before 1994, acts of violence such as rape, assault, and robbery by intimate partners accounted for approximately 13.5 victimizations per 1,000 people. By 2012, the rate had dropped to 5 per 1,000.
But the precarious future of VAWA leaves the progress related to ending domestic violence in the U.S. up in the air.
In February of this year, Congress passed a temporary spending bill that did not include an extension to reauthorize the Act. Although the Act has received bipartisan support, there are sharp divides between Republicans and Democrats over expanding the ban on firearm purchases for spouses or formerly married partners convicted of abuse to include partners who were not legally married. Lawmakers are hoping to reauthorize the Act by the end of this year.
The 2019 budget request for VAWA was $485.5 million dollars, an increase of $10.2 million dollars from the funding the program received in 2018. Included in this year’s budget proposal were plans to alter the program in order to address rural domestic violence, transitional housing for survivors of domestic violence, and grants for tribal governments.
But progress still needs to be made around addressing domestic violence beyond legislation and budgeting.
Last week, former professional basketball player turned analyst Charles Barkley apologized for telling a reporter “I don't hit women but if I did I would hit you” and then telling the reporter that she “couldn’t take a joke” after she objected. Using assault as a joke shows that there are still many people who do not understand the gravity of domestic violence in our society. Although Barkley is just one man, and his comments do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of American men in general, the lack of consequences Barkley faced for his consequences indicate that there are many in power who do not see joking about domestic violence as an inexcusable action.
Barkley did issue an official apology for his comments, and Turner Sports, the network that owns and airs Barkley’s show, issued its own statement. But at the end of the day, Barkley was not suspended or fired for his comments.
America still has a long way to go when it comes to changing public perception and attitudes regarding violence against women. And although the rate of domestic violence against women has steadily dropped since VAWA’s inception in 1994, there is still work to be done. This progress can only be made if legislation like the Violence Against Women Act receives the funding and attention it needs.