Reauthorizing the Violence against Women Act Strengthens Social Values as a Democracy

February 20, 2013

Between the school shooting in Connecticut and the horrific gang rape in New Dehli, many of us wanted to turn off the news to shield our children from the violence during the month of December. Such random and horrible tragedies leave us acutely aware of our vulnerability and unite us as a society on the basis of our common humanity. Preventable tragedies serve as a poignant reminder that we each have a responsibility as part of our human family to create systems to protect the most vulnerable among us.

In 1994, the U.S. Congress led globally when it passed the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) with the specific and formal aim to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, those who are often disproportionately affected by violence and often have no way to protect themselves. The Act provided specific additional legal protections and support for victims of domestic violence, abuse, rape, and stalking. The United States had the courage to lead and face an ugly truth that our society had shrouded in shame and, far too often, hidden away. Unfortunately, Congress has allowed this landmark legislation to expire without reauthorization. The choice not to reauthorize VAWA removes personal responsibility for one’s actions and gives the perception that women and girls are unequal citizens, undermining our government’s credibility both at home and abroad.

Creative works around the world to support women and girls gain access to education, job opportunities, and legal equality. Too often, women and girls in countries where we work on behalf of the American government face not only discrimination but also gender-based violence and the condemning social repercussions that result from being victims of these crimes — society often blames the victims, exonerating the perpetrators of consequences for their actions.

Our ability to stand with the women and girls with whom we work is solidly reinforced when our own country is leading the effort to prevent the brutalization of women here at home. It is imperative for the United States to continue to lead and convey this significant message: such behavior is unacceptable and bears serious legal consequences, and we, as a society, actively strive to support and protect vulnerable women and girls.

Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator of Vermont and Democratic Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Michael Crapo, Republican Senator of Idaho, recently submitted legislation to reauthorize VAWA. We encourage Congress to act expeditiously to reauthorize the Act, demonstrating our country’s leadership and reinforcing its continued commitment to support and protect vulnerable women and girls at home, rather than calling our social values into question.

—Jessica Kruvant and Caleb McCarry, External Relations

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