In-fighting on Capitol Hill over reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act could end up hurting programs intended to help domestic violence victims, officials said this week.
Funding from the Violence Against Women Act, enacted in 1994, provides counseling, shelter and other services to the victims of domestic violence and rape, as well as specialized training for police and prosecutors.
The U.S. Senate reauthorized the act Tuesday in a 78-22 vote, with all 22 opponents Republicans. Now, the measure awaits a vote in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.
Co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Baltimore, the $413-million Senate version includes new provisions to cover same-sex couples and undocumented immigrants. It also allows for the prosecution of non-Native Americans in tribal courts if they abuse Native-American women in tribal areas.
A similar bill passed the Senate in the last Congress, but the House did not take it up before the last session ended in December.
“Without those funds, we’d see a major reduction in those services,” said Jennifer Pollitt Hill, executive director of the Howard County Domestic Violence Center.
The Howard County center receives about $90,000 in federal funds annually under the act, Hill said. Without the funding, the center would have to cut three to four workers who help survivors of domestic violence, Hill said.
Advocates for domestic violence victims have lobbied the House to move swiftly on reauthorization, said Vicki Sadhevadi, of the Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused program in Hagerstown. Federal funds amount to more than $200,000 for the program.
“If we don’t get that funding we’d be devastated,” Sadhevadi said. “We’d really have to cut services.”
Among its programs, it counsels domestic violence abusers.
“We work with the family,” she said. Last year, 3,014 people were served by Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, she said.
Statewide, the Violence Against Women Act last year provided $5 million to agencies.
An estimated 25 percent of women have reported being the victim of domestic violence at least once in their lifetime, and another one in six reports having experienced either a rape or attempted rape, Mikulski said.
In a Senate speech, Mikulski said that she has heard from Maryland residents assisted by Violence Against Women Act programs that helped them navigate the legal system and receive rape counseling.
“We know that VAWA works, so improving it should be a no-brainer,” Mikulski said. “The Senate VAWA bill makes these improvements, and not just in the ways that get attention but in ways which will make the difference in a victim’s life.”
Opposing the Violence Against Women Act puts Republicans in a difficult position, said Laura Hussey, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Some Republicans oppose it because they are looking to cut federal spending or because they oppose the federal government involvement in what should be a state issue, Hussey said. However, opposing the reauthorization of the act also plays into the Democratic message that Republicans are waging a “war Against women,” Hussey said.
“Domestic violence victims are a potent symbol,” she said.
The opposition to reauthorization of the act has surprised and frustrated many domestic violence advocates.
“It’s so frustrating because I don’t actually believe [the opposition] has anything to do with the bill itself,” Hill said. “The Violence Against Women Act had enjoyed bipartisan support since its inception. But I think it’s a reflection of how divided Washington has become.”