This month marked the 26th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) becoming federal law. Yet since December 2018, the Violence Against Women Act has been expired, and this has caused increased uncertainty amongst victims and survivors, law enforcement agencies, and victim and survivor advocates.
What are we at risk of losing if VAWA remains expired, and what’s being done to ensure that victims and survivors have what they need to escape the cycle of abuse?
WARNING: We’re taking a closer look into the cycle of domestic and sexual violence. Reader discretion is advised.
First, let’s clear the air once more on Donald Trump, QAnon, and their latest false smear campaign against Joe Biden.
If Donald Trump is saying it, it must be fact checked. So here we go again. Earlier this year, Trump, his campaign, several of his Republican allies, and some disgruntled Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) supporters (but not Sanders himself) quickly took advantage of former U.S. Senate staffer Tara Reade’s sexual assault accusation against Joe Biden. But as we’ve already noted, Reade’s accusation fell apart upon closer examination of the actual facts versus mere amplification of baseless speculation.
Here we are again, this time with certain media pundits and social media “influencers” amplifying Trump’s recent revival of son Donald Trump, Jr’s, baseless accusation regarding crimes against children. Just as we noted in prior “This Week in Corona Scams” columns on QAnon’s nonstop “Pizzagate” obsession, there is zero evidence to back up any of the Trumps’ accusations against Biden and the other public figures they’ve targeted with this wildly false “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory.
We can’t hesitate in calling this what it is: Trump and his cronies are lying about Biden. Also, Trump is once again projecting his own sordid #MeToo rap sheet onto Biden in order to deflect from his past and present actions. After all, the federal Violence Against Women Act expired in 2018, and the Trump administration and Congressional Republican leaders have opted to keep it expired.
“VAWA’s biggest success is in putting domestic violence on the map as a real problem in need of solutions. Where it falls short is in funding.”
– Liz Ortenburger, SafeNest
Posted by Rep. Susie Lee on Tuesday, September 15, 2020
This past Tuesday, Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) held a virtual roundtable discussion with local advocates for domestic violence victims and survivors to talk about how the Violence Against Women Act has affected their work and what might happen if Congress and the White House let it remain offline indefinitely.
While they all lamented its latest lapse, they also didn’t hold back their criticism. More specifically, SafeNest CEO Liz Ortenburger noted, “VAWA’s biggest success is in putting domestic violence on the map as a real problem in need of solutions. Where it falls short is in funding.” More specifically, Ortenburger lamented how the federal government directed 85% of its VAWA funding to law enforcement and the courts while giving the other 15% to local non-profit organizations that provide direct aid to victims and survivors.
Ortenburger warned that if VAWA is reauthorized without correcting this imbalance, “We’re not funding real change. We’re funding the court system.” This right here gets to a real problem, one that has persisted for years, and one that’s been exacerbated more recently: For all the hype over false allegations that spread willy-nilly across the internet, why don’t we do more for real victims and survivors?
“It’s clear that some people don’t have that connectivity. And when they don’t, it’s a challenge for us to find workarounds.”
– Daniele Staple, The Rape Crisis Center, on victims’ lack of reliable high-speed internet
As the roundtable conversation shifted to how their respective organizations have fared since the early days of COVID-19, only SafeNest’s Ortenburger said her organization could afford to expand services to victims and survivors in need thanks to private donations. For the rest, public health safety concerns and the economic downturn have added to their challenge in maintaining services during this active pandemic.
As S.A.F.E. House Executive Director Julie Proctor explained, “We had to shut our doors and stop taking donations after COVID-19 first hit. We didn’t take any more [clothing and food] donations. The only donations we take now are for non-perishable items. That has a lot of impact on what we can do in our office.” Yet while S.A.F.E. House has since begun admitting new residents again, they can only admit so many to comply with Nevada’s health safety rules. And since S.A.F.E. House and other non-profits haven’t received enough private donations to find additional shelter spaces, their capacity remains limited.
Daniele Staple, Executive Director of The Rape Crisis Center, later noted how the pandemic has made it harder for some victims and survivors to access the help they need. As COVID-19 exposes America’s “Digital Divide”, Staple explained how some victims’ lack of reliable high-speed internet inhibits their ability to do things like online counseling sessions and virtual court hearings: “It’s clear that some people don’t have that connectivity. And when they don’t, it’s a challenge for us to find workarounds.”
“We have collaborative grants, which put a full-time advocate on station. […] The greatest tools we got from VAWA were the collaborative grants.”
– Sara Owen, Henderson Police Department
As the local advocates spoke about the challenges facing victims and survivors, particularly when it comes to basic needs like housing and food, Rep. Susie Lee responded, “I’ve heard loud and clear that housing is the #1 barrier for people leaving a dangerous situation. Where will they go? Where will they take their children? How will they care for their families?”
Lee promised that she will take into account their feedback, and she promised to continue fighting to reauthorize and reestablish the Violence Against Women Act. And throughout the program, the advocates made clear that victims and survivors will be better off with a reauthorized and rebooted VAWA rather than no VAWA at all.
Sara Owen, Victim Advocate for the Henderson Police Department, explained, “We have collaborative grants, which put a full-time advocate on station. […] The greatest tools we got from VAWA were the collaborative grants.”
More specifically, Henderson Police work with S.A.F.E. House to have a full-time advocate to assist domestic violence victims and survivors with filing reports, preparing for court dates, and accessing social services. Owen then warned that if they can’t count on future federal VAWA grants, “We will be in a pickle, because [the Henderson Police/S.A.F.E. House victim advocate] handles 100 cases a month.”
We can’t afford any more empty rhetoric. What will we actually do about it?
For all Donald Trump’s accusations that Joe Biden wants to “defund the police” (Spoiler alert: Biden doesn’t, much to the consternation of some Black Lives Matter activists demanding bolder change), Trump is essentially threatening to defund police departments’ domestic and sexual violence programs by supporting Congressional Republicans in keeping the Violence Against Women Act expired and risking future defunding of federal programs to help victims and survivors. The Democratic-run House passed its VAWA reauthorization bill in April 2019, but it’s been stalled in the Republican-run Senate alongside several other House-passed bills, and one key reason for the stall is the VAWA reauthorization bill’s broader restriction on domestic violence offenders accessing guns.
For all Donald Trump’s talk of “law and order”, Trump’s own alarming history of violence against women (Amy Dorris is the latest woman to share her story of Trump attacking her), his refusal to acknowledge domestic violence victims and survivors as such, and his history of surrounding himself with fellow “men’s rights luminaries” like Jeffrey Epstein, Brett Kavanaugh, and Stephen Moore belie a much uglier reality behind Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric.
While we can’t control what Trump does, we can determine whether or not he stays in office, and we can decide who goes to Congress and to our state legislature to make our laws. We can also determine what we do ourselves and what we do for each other. Is this something we really want to just accept, or will we actually commit to doing more and better to help people escape the cycle of abuse?
If you or someone you know is facing a major life crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). So is the Crisis Text Line, where you can start a conversation with a volunteer counselor by texting “START” to 741741. And for LGBTQ+ youth in need of immediate help, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386, and a text option (text “START” to 678678) available. And if you know anyone who’s currently experiencing domestic and/or sexual violence, the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence has a list of resources available across the state. And if you want to do more to help, check out the Nevada Coalition’s action page for ideas on getting more involved.
The cover photo is a screenshot from the event that was captured by me.