How VAWA Takes on the Systems That Perpetuate Domestic and Sexual Violence

Today the House of Representatives passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 (H.R. 1585). This VAWA bill authorizes programs and funding that support survivors of gender-based violence. But it also does more: It tackles some of the laws and institutions that perpetuate domestic violence and sexual assault across the country. Dismantling these structural causes of gender-based violence is essential to ensuring the security and dignity of survivors, their families, and communities.

Protecting the Right to Seek Emergency and Police Assistance

In cities across the country, victims of crimes increasingly pay a terrible price for calling 911: eviction from their homes. Thousands of localities have enacted ordinances that punish tenants and landlords based on calls for police or emergency services or criminal activity at a property — even where the tenant is the victim of the crime or needed aid. These ordinances disproportionately harm survivors of domestic violence, who may need to reach out for police protection repeatedly.

Once residents learn they can be evicted for calling 911, they usually lose all faith in law enforcement. Even worse, these ordinances empower abusers because they know reports to the police can result in the survivor’s eviction. The ACLU has represented survivors of domestic violence who faced homelessness and escalating violence due to these local laws and advocated at the local and state levels to address their inhumane effects. 

The House bill recognizes the right to report crimes and emergencies from one’s home and protects landlords, residents, and tenants from being penalized for requesting law enforcement or emergency assistance by governmental agencies that receive federal funding. While some states have enacted legislation to address this issue, a federal response is direly needed. No crime victim should be forced to make the impossible choice between suffering in silence or calling 911 and being kicked out of their homes.

Promoting Justice for Indian Survivors of Sexual Violence and Stalking

The House bill expands the ability of tribes to investigate and prosecute cases of sexual violence and stalking on tribal lands involving non-Native perpetrators. Until 2013, tribes were stripped of authority to pursue cases against non-Native people, even where victims were tribal members. This was deeply problematic, as the vast majority of Native American survivors of sexual violence described the perpetrator as not Indian. Because it was unlikely that the federal government would prosecute these cases, non-Native people committed domestic violence and sexual assault against Native Americans with impunity, leading to high rates of violence on tribal lands.

In the last reauthorization of VAWA, Congress permitted tribes, for the first time, to exercise jurisdiction over domestic violence cases committed against Native Americans. Under this new bill, tribes could hold non-Native perpetrators accountable for sexual violence and stalking as well. In doing so, it confronts restrictions on tribal sovereignty that have fueled gender-based violence against Native Americans, particularly women.

Challenging Sexual Misconduct by Law Enforcement

VAWA addresses a particularly disturbing defense that has been raised by law enforcement officers who sexually assault people in their custody: consent. Police officers have successfully argued that a person they detained “consented” to sexual activity, escaping accountability. The defense ignores the profound power imbalance between law enforcement and people who are detained, which makes truly voluntary consent impossible.

VAWA closes this loophole by making it unlawful for a person acting under color of law to engage in sexual activity with someone in federal custody, regardless of whether that person “consented.” It also authorizes the Department of Justice to make grants to states, many of which permit consent defenses, to address this issue. Survivors of police sexual misconduct already face huge barriers to coming forward, including the lack of effective oversight of officers. They should not also be compelled by our legal system to prove they did not consent to sexual activity while detained.

#MeToo not only shed light on the pervasiveness of sexual violence — it also showed how people, systems, and institutions have been complicit in silencing survivors and fostering ongoing and escalating violence. Now that the House has passed its bill, it’s time for the Senate to act so that we can begin to overturn some of the laws and institutions that perpetuate gender-based violence.

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Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

"It's not nice to beat your wife.": Emily Post circa 1925.

James King

#SaveVAWA #GenderEquityNow

Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

The ACLU censored my original comment here and it was definitely not something nasty.

Anonymous

I see the ACLU has a prior restraint system on comments. And you say they are censoring ideas that they apparently disagree with, in whole or in part I don't know. How shameful for a group that claims, falsely, to represent free speech and other civil rights. But since they sponsor VAWA they can't really defend free speech. I wish I could say more, but the worst thing about censorship is

Anonymous

Thank you Sandra, we really appreciate everything you do to help women.

Peggy L Van Sickle

Thank you so much for this article and for the work you to do protect human rights for all people.

Anonymous

VAWA is the number one cause of political prisoners in America, It is shameful for the ACLU to defend this litigation. Ex parte prior restraints , they not only violate free speech rights (United states v New York Times) but also due process rights(carroll v princess anne). Nor are the orders narrowly tailored to survive a test of strict scrutiny (playboy entertainment group) and are clearly content (rav v city of st paul) and speaker based discrimination (coates v city of cincinatti). And they seek to criminalize speech that cannot be criminalized. See US v Stevens (2010), Thomas v Collins. Often under labels that cannot be prosecuted such as harassing (suxe v college school board), emotional distress (snyder v phelps), and annoying (coates, supra), reasonable fear (see boos v berry and texas v Johnson). They are blantantly unconstitutional, and even in the states that exempt constitutionally protected conduct-our scotus has found that it is unconstitutionally vague in Thornhill v Alabama. The fact they are heard in chancery when there is a full and adequate remedy available at law violates a persons jury trial rights. Then they take away a persons gun ownership rights.

They are being used to arrest people for appealing a case, they are being used on people who sue a municipal government, they are being use by one counselman upon another, they are being used on people for criticizing the police, people who criticize copyright trolls, people who leave yelp reviews, people who send their kids happy birthday cards, people who like prosecutors dogs on facebook. And the worst offenders are receiving grants for pro-arrest policies. They keep their political prisoners and everyone else locked up for protected speech until they are forced to plead guilty, for explicitly the county uses the grants for economic developments and can't let someone be able to sue them.

The best thing that can be said for the ACLUs suppose of VAWA is SHAME ON THEM. It is expected that everyone knows what the law is. A piece of paper will not stop anyone who wants to commit harm, and for those who want to commit crimes we have the criminal statutes that offers full remedies at law. Furthermore, their goal is quite clear; It isn't going to save lives, but instead cost most lives. Even as nationally violent crimes rates dropped, domestic violence increased under VAWA. The reason is quite obvious. VAWA is an attack on Logos, it is an attack on speech and reason. This is not the punishment to render upon men, this is something you might do to an animal (the trial of John Lilburne 3 howell st trials 1385). And even then the remedy for a barking dog would simply be a fine for the lost enjoyment of property, not a court ordering a Dogs tongue cut off or locking him into a kennel. The structure is designed to remove all the peaceful means of using speech and reason to bring about change peacefully (milkwagon drivers union v meadowmoore dairies). When you cannot bring about change through peace and reason, when there is no higher authority on earth in a controversy, VAWA makes it so the further appeal is with the very violence they falsely claim it will prevent (Locke, the two treatises of civil government). All it does is brings out man's inner demons, and the outcome, as statistics shows, is quite deadly. VAWA is the best catalyst to create a murder suicide.

Refuse to fund the ACLU until they at least oppose VAWA, otherwise they are just leading us all on the path of slavery where we will be unable to speak about it less we are disappeared.

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