The Violence Against Women Act is a critical piece of bipartisan legislation that, since 1994, has combated violent crime and protected victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Even though reauthorizing the law has never been a partisan issue, it has become wrapped up in a polarized debate this year over the extent of its protections. In a bipartisan vote the Senate voted to reauthorize the act and to strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence in the gay and transgender, immigrant, and Native American communities. But instead of taking up these changes, House Republicans are playing political games with the safety of women. Just yesterday they passed their version of the bill, H.R. 4970, which removes important protections for vulnerable communities and cuts funding used to combat domestic violence. In doing so, it rolls back progress and threatens the health and safety of many Americans living in violent or abusive relationships.
Here are the top 10 ways the House Republican version of the Violence Against Women Act moves backward on combating domestic violence:
1. It fails to protect gay and transgender victims of domestic violence. House Republicans removed critical protections to gay and transgender victims of domestic violence that were present in the Senate’s version of the bill. This community sorely needs these protections—somewhere between 25 percent and 33 percent of gay and transgender people are victims of domestic violence.
2. It leaves gay and transgender victims without a place to go for help. Not only does this community experience high rates of domestic violence, but they are also all too often turned away from abuse shelters because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. A 2010 study showed 45 percent of gay and transgender victims were denied services when they sought help from a domestic violence shelter. Still, H.R. 4970 removes important nondiscrimination protections that gay and transgender survivors of domestic violence badly need. The nondiscrimination protections in the Senate version would prohibit denying victims social services because they are gay or transgender.
3. It cuts funding for crucial programs. H.R. 4970 does not provide funding for grant programs that would help combat violent crimes for individuals in same-sex relationships. The Office on Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice currently funds 21 programs under the law’s authority, all of which help prevent violent crimes and aid victims of domestic violence. STOP Grants (Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors), for example, provide critical funding toward enhancing local communities’ ability to keep women safe and hold perpetrators accountable.
4. It enhances abusers’ power over immigrant victims. The House bill rolls back protections provided by the “self-petition” process, which is designed to protect victim spouses of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who are eligible to apply for permanent residency but are dependent on their abusive spouses for sponsorship. Instead of a private process, House Republicans want to allow immigration agents to contact abusers and allow uncorroborated evidence to be presented by the perpetrators of violence and used in determining the validity of a victim’s immigration case. This puts the victims at even greater risk of experiencing further abuse.
5. It links victims’ access to relief to their abusers’ prosecution. The House Republican bill suspends adjudication of the victim’s immigration case until law enforcement and prosecutors have concluded the open investigation or prosecution against the abuser, further endangering the safety of survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault as they are forced to await the conclusion of a frequently slow process to be granted relief.
6. It eliminates crucial incentives for reporting abuse. H.R. 4970 would eliminate the permanent aspect of the so-called U visa—a visa category that allows undocumented victims of certain criminal activities to legally remain in the United States—taking away a key incentive that victims of domestic violence and sexual assault have to cooperate with law enforcement. Without U visas we can expect to see fewer victims cooperating with law enforcement in the prosecution of dangerous criminals.
7. It adds unnecessary bureaucracy. The House Republican bill requires that victims of domestic violence participate in two in-person interviews with the staff of local Department of Homeland Security offices, which are unlikely to be trained in dealing with cases of domestic violence, child abuse, or sexual assault. Delays in these interviews will inevitably keep these victims in harm’s way.
8. It increases risks for Native American women. The House Republican bill eliminates key protections for Native American women despite the fact that rates of domestic violence among Native American women are among the highest in the United States. Three out of five Native American women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
9. It shields abusers of Native American women. Unlike the Senate bill, H.R. 4970 does not recognize tribal authority over non-Native American offenders when domestic violence or sexual assault is committed against Native Americans on tribal lands. In other words, the House bill gives non-Native Americans a “get out of jail free card” for sexual assault or domestic violence committed against Native Americans, even if the perpetrator lives on the reservation and is married to a tribal member. Half of Native American women are married to non-Native American men.
10. It diminishes protection for college-age women. The House Republican bill eliminates the Violence Against Women Act’s improvements to the Clery Act, which would require colleges and universities that receive federal student financial aid to develop policies on sexual assault and dating violence; update and expand existing services on college campuses; and improve crime reporting on campuses. Approximately 32 percent of college students experience domestic violence. College-age women are at the highest risk of experiencing nonfatal intimate partner violence and stalking. Under the Senate version, services for sexual assault survivors on college campuses would be expanded to include domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.
The House bill, introduced by Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL), was drafted without the input of law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, victim services providers, or advocates. It is no wonder, then, that 325 organizations—as well as the Obama administration, which has threatened to veto the legislation—oppose H.R. 4970.
As the Obama administration noted, “no sexual assault or domestic violence victim should be beaten, hurt, or killed because they could not access needed support, assistance, and protection.” The House Republican bill, however, fails to provide the adequate support, assistance, and protection that victims of domestic violence so badly need.
House Republicans should stop holding women’s safety hostage and pass a version of the Violence Against Women Act that protects all victims of domestic violence. As lawmakers go to reconcile the Senate and House bills in conference, let’s move forward with the act, not backward.
Ann Garcia is a Research and Policy Associate for the Immigration Policy team, Crosby Burns is a Research Associate for the LGBT Research and Communications Project, and Lindsay Rosenthal is the Special Assistant for Domestic Policy at the Center for American Progress.
 In this column, the term “gay” is used as an umbrella term to describe people that are lesbian, gay, or bisexual.