A VAWA For All Victims
Long before my day-to-day professional life involved advocating for the Violence Against Women Act – and before I even knew that VAWA existed – I believed in the importance of this bill.
As a college student, I volunteered at a transitional housing program for survivors of domestic violence and their children. The women came to this program directly from emergency shelters and used their time in transitional housing to work towards safety and self-sufficiency. In working with and advocating on behalf of these women, I saw firsthand how deep and complex their needs were. In addition to healing from the physical and emotional trauma of being abused, these women were accessing numerous supports and resources – from legal assistance to help finding permanent housing to employment training. As they navigated all of these systems, I saw their frustration and their sadness, and also their resolve and their hope. I saw them – and the incredible advocates that worked on the staff of this program – struggle for access to services, but also creatively and tenaciously piece together strategies for building a life after the violence. What I didn’t know at the time was that VAWA was everywhere in the lives of these survivors; VAWA’s programs and funding supported and sustained nearly every resource that they accessed.
I carry the stories of the women, children, and staff that I met at the transitional housing program with me every day. They stand out to me as examples of the importance and value of VAWA in the lives of people across the country. And yet I also carry with me the stories of all of those that VAWA couldn’t reach – because, despite all of its successes, this bill does not yet provide services to all victims. This reauthorization presents a critical opportunity to expand on the strengths of this legislation and extend VAWA to some of those victims that need it most. There are Native American women – a population that suffers from shockingly high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault – seeking safety, and tribal courts that must be empowered to provide justice and hold offenders in their communities accountable. There are victims living in federally subsidized housing programs that are too often discriminated against or evicted because of actions perpetrated by their abusers. There are immigrant victims who need access to U visas so that they can live securely in this country without their abusers forcing them to choose between violence and deportation. There are college students without access to prevention education or comprehensive campus-based resources. There are LGBT survivors of violence who don’t have access to the same services and protection to overcome trauma and find safety.
It is the stories of all of these survivors that inform my work and are the reason why I advocate for the Violence Against Women Act. They are why we need a strong, inclusive, bipartisan VAWA. They are why we need a VAWA that safely and effectively protects all victims. They are why we need a VAWA that supports the critical work of local programs and state coalitions in ensuring that victims have access to the services they need and deserve. For all of them, we need VAWA now.