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OR Groups Wait Out Stalemate on Violence Against Women Act

June 4, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. - In Oregon, groups that provide services to domestic-violence victims say their plans and budgets are on hold, as long as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is stalled in Congress. VAWA is the source of more than $1.6 million in federal funding to Oregon, and its reauthorization is part of the pre-election political battle.

The Senate has passed a bill (S 1925) that includes protections for immigrant, Native American and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) victims of domestic abuse, but the House bill (HR 4970) does not.

Vanessa Timmons, executive director of the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, says the controversy puts funding in jeopardy when there already are waiting lists at women's shelters.

"Even with state and federal funding, it's very difficult to fully fund domestic and sexual violence programs. Unfortunately, there is still a need for us to grow, and also to apply some prevention strategies to our work. Very few people want to fund prevention, yet it's critical."

House Republican leaders say their bill protects all victims and that there is no reason for it to single out certain groups. However, Timmons says there are populations that experience higher rates of abuse and need more specific types of help.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) opposes the House bill, calling it "anti-gay," "anti-immigrant" - and even "anti-women." NOW Vice President Mary Pollack says it excludes many abuse victims who are less likely to report.

"Immigrant women are especially vulnerable, because some of them are victims of domestic violence and are very afraid of calling the police or calling for help."

Its detractors point out that VAWA costs millions of dollars nationwide and say it duplicates state services. But Timmons explains that it allows scarce local dollars to be used for crisis services and supplies money for training and research in growing areas of concern, including elder abuse.

"Money is applied to what we know is happening around our elder population and some of the diverse needs they may have, around traumatic brain injury and higher-level health needs, or the impact of domestic violence over the lifetime."

VAWA has been reauthorized twice since 1994, with bipartisan support. This time, it is set to expire in September. President Obama has threatened to veto the House version; the only Oregon congressman to support it is Rep. Greg Walden. No compromise negotiations have been scheduled.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR