The Violence Against Women Act
The Violence Against Women Act was the second law covered in our “law a day” series. This law was enacted under President Bill Clinton in 1994, receiving relatively less partisan opposition than the Equal Rights Amendment. The law mandates that a certain portion of federal tax dollars go towards addressing domestic violence and sexual assault by funding domestic abuse shelters, training victim advocates, and more.
Although this Act has passed, it has faced different objections from both Republicans and Democrats each time it has been brought up for re-authorization. According to the New York Times, when it was initially proposed by Delaware Senator Joe Biden, the law aimed to make streets and homes safer for women and protect their civil rights. Critics cited that the law’s penalties for rape were so stringent that, “ [the Violence Against Women Act would] involve federal courts in a whole host of domestic relations disputes.” For this reason, the Department of Justice under George W. Bush opposed it.
Opposing this law may seem heartless of the DOJ, but the Supreme Court actually agreed with them six years later in 2000. After a woman sued her attackers in federal court, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress doesn’t have the authority to allow this. Laws addressing gender inequality can often be flawed, but it is important that we do not use flaws to fuel partisan tension or abandon the legislation entirely.
In both 2000 and 2005, the bill was re-authorized with nearly universal support.
By 2013, new objections and a celebrity feud arose. The Violence Against Women Act expired in 2011 and wasn’t renewed for two years because conservatives objected to provisions to provide aid to undocumented victims, LGBTQ, and Native American victims. According to thinkprogress.org, Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn said in an interview in 2013, “I didn’t like how it was expanded to protect other groups.” Blackburn’s opposition prompted Taylor Swift to break her political silence. As documented in her the celebrity’s documentary Miss Americana, Swift’s vocal opposition to Blackburn sparked record-breaking levels of voter registration. Still, Blackburn won the Senate seat in Tennessee. Many have owed her win to her gaining the approval of men by not being her own person. Others believe it is sexist to shame her for her political opinions.
By 2019, a provision was added to the Violence Against Women Act to prevent those convicted of abuse or stalking from buying a gun. According to the Huffington Post, the Act was approved for re-authorization by a narrow margin, with 157 Republicans and 1 Democrat voting against it. Many Republicans wanted to vote for it; however, they faced pressure from NRA lobbyists not to.
The Violence Against Women Act has garnered enough bipartisan support to be reauthorized a few times; however, increasing partisan tension surrounding feminism is threatening this streak. The Act went unpassed from 2011-2013, and it is possible that this will happen again during another controversial re-authorization period.
At the Bipartisan Feminist Project, we encourage legislators to promote pro-women legislation with as few places of political controversy as possible and anti-feminists to be open-minded to objectively good laws. When pro-women legislation is less politicized, people are more likely to both pursue their personal beliefs and support basic human rights.