If you don’t already know what the Violence Against Women Act is or, more accurately, was, it was a landmark law that was around for over 25 years. And it was great. A real game changer.
In fact, the Violence Against Women Act or “VAWA” was really the first piece of legislation to even acknowledge the existence of domestic violence and sexual assault on a federal level. Strange but true: we, as a nation, once didn’t even bother to define domestic violence as a crime, let alone how to prosecute it.
A Turning Point
Ok, so what was VAWA exactly? When it was authored by then Senator Joe Biden and passed in 1994, it gave law enforcement brand new ways of understanding and responding to domestic violence as well as sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.
It was the first law, for example, to make it a federal crime to cross a state line with the intention of stalking or hurting an intimate partner.
It also provided a significant amount of funding for domestic violence shelters and rape hotlines. It expanded the options a judge has when making sentencing decisions about repeat offenders.
Partisan Politics Creep In
VAWA was once a popular federal policy. Reauthorizing it every so often was a relatively easy, bipartisan affair. Throughout the years, though, the increasingly polarized nature of American politics began to take its toll.
Republicans on Capitol Hill waged a fierce battle in 2012, for instance, to avoid extending VAWA’s protections to members of same-sex couples. They also objected to a provision that offered a limited number of temporary visas to immigrant women experiencing domestic violence in their home countries and seeking protection here.
The GOP lost those battles. VAWA was reauthorized with protections for same-sex couples and a limited number of immigrants experiencing intimate partner violence. The whole rumble, though, marked the start of a rockier path for the law.
In September 2018, in the midst of a partial government shutdown centered around funding for Trump’s border wall, VAWA expired. The law eventually received a temporary extension, but expired again on February 15, 2019.
The NRA Weaponizes Domestic Violence Law. (Literally.)
Of course, the new, Democrat-controlled Senate took office in January 2021, so you'd think VAWA would now be easily reauthorized, right? It’s a strong piece of bipartisan legislation that would make any politician look good for voting for it.
Republicans didn’t get the memo. On April 4, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House did manage to pass an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act, but not without significant opposition from the GOP. Just 33 House Republicans voted to pass VAWA while 158, over a third of the House, voted against it.
Why? In short, the gun industry’s lobbying machine, in particular the National Rifle Association (NRA).
See, each time VAWA has come up for renewal over the years, it’s been updated to include recent findings from domestic violence experts. Most recently, that’s meant it needed to be updated to reflect their growing understanding of the uniquely lethal interplay between domestic violence and guns. Based on this research, a new provision that prevents abusers from buying and owning guns was added to VAWA this time around.
The gun industry didn’t like that. The NRA warned House Republicans that voting to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act would negatively affect their NRA ratings. Several of the 158 House Republicans who voted against VAWA—many of whom have received financial support from the gun industry—admitted it was because of the gun related part of the bill.
Where We Are Now
Now that the bill has moved onto the U.S. Senate, ten Republican Senators would need to join their Democrat colleagues in a show of not-being-total-monsters in order for the U.S. to continue protecting women from domestic violence. A 60-vote threshold is required to reauthorize VAWA. Those close to this bill say it looks unlikely to pass.
So, to recap, it’s looking like the NRA has successfully blocked our federal government from protecting women from intimate partner violence. This means that while safe for now, funding for domestic violence shelters and rape hotlines could evaporate in the not too distant future.
What’s especially absurd about this is the NRA has actually been losing political power in the last few years and there are actual studies now to show that voters don’t punish politicians for voting out of step with NRA recommendations.
So Republican Senators have no excuse for not voting for VAWA if and when it does come to a vote. None. Voters won’t punish them for reauthorizing it. Only the gun lobby will, which means their actions would likely be entirely motivated by thoughts of future campaign funding. It’s as if an entire industry, the firearm industry, has itself become an abuser.
What You Can Do Right Now
- Step One: Reach out to some U.S. Senators and encourage them to vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Here’s are the fifteen we think it’d be most strategic to contact. Call their offices and say, “I support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.” For an extra kick, you can add, “I don’t live in the senator’s constituency, but if they vote against reauthorizing, I will consider donating to their opponent in the next election.” If you plan to call the companies that have donated to these senators, you can also add, "I will also be calling the companies that have donated to the senator in the past to share my position with them." Typically a staffer will take your call and is charged with tallying up the sentiment of callers to communicate to the elected official. (All numbers listed are the senators' D.C. numbers)
- Dan Sullivan (R-AK): (202) 224-3004
- Chuck Grassley (R-IA): (202) 224-3744
- Todd Young (R-IN): (202) 224-5623
- Jerry Moran (R-KS): (202) 224-6521
- Rand Paul (R-KY): (202) 224-4343
- Mitch McConnell (R-KY): (202) 224-2541
- Richard Burr (R-NC): (202) 224-3154
- Ben Sasse (R-NE): (202) 224-4224
- Pat Toomey (R-PA): (202) 224-4254
- Lindsey Graham (R-SC): (202) 224-5972
- John Thune (R-SD): (202) 224-2321
- Mike Lee (R-UT): (202) 224-5444
- Mitt Romney (R-UT): (202) 224-5251
- Ron Johnson (R-WI): (202) 224-5323
- Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV): (202) 224-6472
- Step Two: You can also contact the companies that have given money to the fifteen U.S. Senators listed above. When you contact the companies, one thing you could say is, “I noticed that your Campaign Committee & Leadership PAC gave money to Senator X. Does your company plan to give to this politician again if they vote against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act?”
- FedEx (supports GOP Senator Dan Sullivan). Contact: email@example.com
- Verizon (supports GOP Senator Chuck Grassley). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Eli Lilly & Co (supports GOP Senator Todd Young). Contact: email@example.com
- Berkshire Hathaway (supports GOP Sen. Jerry Moran). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- AT&T (supports GOP Senator Rand Paul). Contact: email@example.com
- UPS (supports GOP Senator Mitch McConnell). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bank of America (supports GOP Sen. Richard Burr). Contact: email@example.com
- Google (supports GOP Senator Ben Sasse) Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Goldman Sachs (supports GOP Senator Pat Toomey) Contact: email@example.com
- Blue Cross / Blue Shield (supports Senator Lindsey Graham) Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Prudential Financial (supports Senator John Thune) Contact: email@example.com
- Microsoft (supports Senator Mike Lee) Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Marriott (supports Senator Mitt Romney) Contact: email@example.com
- Northwestern Mutual (supports Sen. R. Johnson) Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- DISH Network (supports Sen. Shelley Moore Capito) Contact: email@example.com
- Step Three: If you want to go the extra mile, here are all the U.S. Senators most likely to vote against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. (Many have already voted against reauthorizing it in the past.)