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OBAMA SIGNS VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT

Semah Report

An expanded version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was approved on February 28, 2013 by the GOP-dominated House after the Republicans failed to water down the Act. After an up and down vote, the House passed the Violence Against Women Act by a margin of 286-138, with 199 Democrats and 87 Republicans voting in favor of it. The bill had already passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote on February 12.

President Obama signed the bill into law on March 7.

Hailed as landmark legislation when it was first passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act authorizes funding for programs across the country that help in the prosecution of sexual assault and domestic abuse, and assists victims of the crimes. Those include battered women’s shelters, victims advocates, rape-prevention education and other programs. The bill will authorize up to $660 million be spent each year for the next five years for such programs. This is a drop of 17 percent from the last time the act was reauthorized in 2005.

The measure also expands the authority of tribal courts to prosecute nonnative American men who are accused of crimes on Indian reservations, an expansion of the law’s reach intended to help address particularly pernicious problems of abuse on reservations.

The Act must be reauthorized every five years, and an extension was not passed in 2012. It faced some opposition from Republicans because of newly added provisions that extend the bill’s protections to same-sex couples, Native Americans living on reservations and undocumented immigrants.

VAWA was introduced in 1994 by the then Senator Joseph Biden and passed overwhelmingly in a bi-partisan fashion by the Senate and the House. For the first time a piece of legislation recognized the overwhelming nature of violence against women both in domestic settings inside of the home and in the broader context of society.

Commendation should go to women’s advocacy groups, who upon finding out the bill would not get passed because of a strong conservative bloc in the House, joined interfaith and community organizations to push for a strong campaign to vote for VAWA.

On February 20, a coalition of Muslim and Jewish advocacy groups called for the House of Representatives to pass the Violence Against Women Act after months of delay, saying the U.S. should be a leader in protecting women in the face of violence against women by some Islamic extremists.

Representatives of the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Jewish Women International said Speaker of the House John Boehner should call a vote on the reauthorization VAWA immediately, citing support for the bill across party lines.

“(Our organizations) came together to learn and to share and to really raise our voices for this bill,” Deborah Rosenbloom of Jewish Women International said. “This is a place that everybody can agree on. If we’re going to end violence against women we need to do it across all communities.”
Rosenbloom said the provisions in question are important to the bill’s effectiveness and are based on feedback from law enforcement and advocates working with abused women. The interfaith coalition of VAWA advocates was intended to send a message to Congress about the importance of acting on the bill, Rosenbloom said.

There is little data available about the prevalence of domestic violence in the Muslim-American community, according to Hoda Elshishtawy of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. However, several high-profile incidents of violence against Muslim women have gained public attention. “When women are empowered, then your whole society is empowered,” Elshishtawy said. “And that’s one of the reasons that we’re really being vocal on VAWA.”

Ahmed Bhadelia, a legislative assistant to Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., joined the faith organizations in denouncing the delay in passing the bill’s reauthorization. “It’s shocking… that we haven’t done anything here in the House,” Bhadelia said. “We haven’t had even a vote on it. That’s very frustrating.”

Earlier this year, the Muslim Public Affairs Council launched a campaign, Voices for VAWA: Muslims Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Abuse, to involve the American Muslim community in advocating for the passage of VAWA in Congress. MPAC’s campaign included a community toolkit to activate citizens to contact their members of Congress and urge them to vote in favor of passing the bill.

Haris Tarin, the director of MPAC’s Washington, DC, office, published an op-ed, “An American Muslim Man’s Case for VAWA,” on the Huffington Post explaining why VAWA should be a central concern for American Muslims:

“Besides our community being heavily impacted by this issue, it is our prophetic tradition to stand up for the most vulnerable in society and inspire our communities to engage in the advocacy process. American Muslim institutions, mosques and leaders should be at the forefront of advocating on this legislation."

Tarin went on to say, regardless of why it is being stalled in Congress, one thing is clear; American Muslims must assert their voice in this conversation. "Besides our community being heavily impacted by this issue, it is our prophetic tradition to stand up for the most vulnerable in society and inspire our communities to engage in the advocacy process. American Muslim institutions, mosques and leaders should be at the forefront of advocating on this legislation."

We know that there are instances of domestic violence in all communities and none of us are immune, Tarin said adding: "Sadly, I hear numerous stories of domestic abuse from counselors, therapists and Imams, who spend their time dealing with these issues." 
(Sources: CNN, Washington Post, Huffington Post)