Violence Against Women Act Lapses Again

Authorization expired with partial government shutdown

Anita Hill testifies before Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 14, 1991. The Violence Against Women Act came together in the aftermath of the hearings, in which Hill alleged she faced sexual harassment by then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. (Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Violence Against Women Act lapsed for the second time in 25 years. Authorization for the law’s programs expired when the partial government shutdown began just after midnight Friday.

The landmark domestic violence law was set to expire Sept. 30, but was extended through Dec. 7 under the first stopgap spending bill and extended again until Dec. 21 in a second short-term bill.

The law authorizes funding for social service agencies that aid victims affected by sexual violence, including rape crisis centers, shelters and legal-assistance programs. Reauthorizations over the years have included expanded provisions focused on reporting mechanisms for sexual violence on college campuses and extending protections for the LGBT community.

Most VAWA programs are administered by the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services. Congress cleared fiscal 2019 funding for HHS in September, which means that funding for some VAWA programs administered by HHS may continue, even as the authorizations expire. The fiscal Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill, which funds DOJ, is one of the seven measures caught up in the shutdown standoff.

House Democrats pointed to the VAWA expiration as an argument against the government shutdown on Twitter. Debate over the shutdown has been primarily focused on the fight over funding for a wall on the US-Mexico border.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that one in three women and one in six men encounter sexual violence during their lifetime.

The Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994 to support victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. The legislation came together in the aftermath of the 1991 Anita Hill hearings — where Hill alleged she faced sexual harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas — and the subsequent “Year of the Woman,” when a record four women were elected to the Senate and 24 to the House in 1992.

The act expired in 2011, but many of the programs received funding in fiscal 2012 and 2013.

VAWA was most recently reauthorized it in 2013, after a fight. Conservatives in the House GOP caucus opposed the bill after leadership brought the Senate version to the floor without committee consideration in the House.

Rep. Gerry Connolly called the expiration “A shameful end to Speaker Ryan’s tenure.”

Earlier this year, 46 House Republicans called on Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to bring a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act to the floor.

House Democrats introduced a VAWA reauthorization proposal in July, sponsored by Texas’s Sheila Jackson Lee, that includes updates to the law such as provisions to help victims of domestic violence and stalking stay in stable housing situations and to bar evictions based on the actions of an abuser.

Neither measure was brought to committee or the House floor.

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