President Barack Obama signed into law today expanded protections for students on college campuses, Native American women, and LGBT victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act after a year of a partisan paralysis.
The reauthorized Violence Against Woman Act offers stronger protections against stalking and dating violence. It requires universities to inform students and staff about incidents that occur on or near campuses. The law aims to help schools, youth organizations, and domestic violence agencies to stop violence before it starts.
Other provisions of the law were more controversial. The updated version expands protections to same-sex couples and offers help to undocumented immigrants and immigrants whose immigration status is dependent on their abuser. The law grants Native American tribes the authority to prosecute domestic violence against Native Americans and non-Native Americans-alike. Native American women suffer among the highest rates of domestic violence in the country.
Republicans took issue with many of the law’s expanded provisions, which Democrats inserted after determining the political winds were in their favor going into last year’s election. The two parties failed to come to an agreement before the close of the election year.
The Violence Against Women Act first passed in 1994. It was originally drafted by the office of then-Senator Joe Biden and passed through Congress with broad bipartisan support. The law has since been reauthorized three times, once in 2000, again in 2005, and now. The act passed the Senate last month with a vote of 78 to 22 and the House with a vote of 268 to 138. President Obama accredited the bill’s supporters across the country with its successful passage today.
“This is your day,” President Obama said in an event surrounding the signing of the law. “This is the day of the advocates, the day of the survivors. This is your victory. This victory shows that when the American people make their voices heard, Washington listens.”
House Speaker John Beohner allowed the law to come for a vote despite opposition from a majority of his party. Republicans had a poor showing among women in the recent election, and this was an issue some wanted to get behind them.
Vice President Biden joined the President in celebrating the passage of the bill:
Vice President Biden: “Because of the people in this room, every time we reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, we improved it” #VAWA
— Office of VP Biden (@VP) March 7, 2013
Instances of sexual assault have fallen by two-thirds since the law’s original passage nearly two decades ago. Supporters assert that this is evidence the law has had a positive effect.
“It didn’t just change the rules, it changed our culture,” the President said. “It empowered people to start speaking out.”
Signing the expanded Violence Against Women Act comes as a political victory not just for President Obama, but for Vice President Joe Biden who has made the issue one of the causes of his career.
[Image via The Columbian]