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Violence Against Women Act in Limbo – Lives Hang in the Balance?

June 11, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. - Reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) remains in limbo.

The legislation has implications for the victims of rape, stalking and domestic violence in Virginia and around the nation. Originally enacted in 1994, the Senate passed a reauthorization last month (S. 1925) with expanded protections for Native Americans, immigrants and LGBT people. The House then passed its version (HR 4970), which has law enforcement, faith-based organizations and victims' rights advocates voicing concern, according to Susheela Varky, an attorney specializing in domestic- and sexual-violence issues for the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

"Not only does it not expand services as the Senate bill does, it actually rolls back services, or rights of immigrants."

Varky says the House bill would remove confidentiality protections, which would give abusers access to the victims' case against them. Supporters of the bill say these provisions are necessary to prevent fraudulent applications for relief. Varky says there is no evidence of widespread fraud, however. She adds that if an abuser is aware that his or her victim is cooperating with the police, the victim is less likely to speak up and is also in greater danger of physical harm or death.

Another rollback includes limiting a type of visa offered to eligible immigrant victims of crimes who are cooperating with police. Varky says removing these U-visas would hamper law enforcement and potentially keep victims in unsafe situations. She says many criminals prey on immigrant communities because immigrants are less likely to come forward for fear of retribution or deportation.

"These are serious crimes that will lead to homicide, and homicides are more expensive for our communities to handle, for prosecutors to charge, to investigate, to address."

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA