AtlantaBlackStar – The Violence Against Women Act that President Obama proudly signed today contains significant new protections for women, and expands to include gays and lesbians and immigrants. The expanded protections caused Republicans to fight against the act over the last year and a half.
But in the current political climate, with a popular president winning the last election partly due to greater support among women, Republicans dropped their opposition.
“This is your day. This is the day of the advocates, the day of the survivors. This is your victory,” Obama said. “This victory shows that when the American people make their voices heard, Washington listens.”
The new law authorizes the expenditure of $659 million a year over five years for programs that strengthen the criminal justice system’s response to crimes against women and some men, transitional housing, legal assistance, law enforcement training and hotlines.
The law also focuses on ways to reduce sexual assault on college campuses and reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. In addition, it adds stalking to the list of crimes that make immigrants eligible for protection, and authorizes programs to reduce the backlog in rape investigations.
Data released today by the Justice Department showed that the rate of sexual violence against women and girls age 12 or older fell 64 percent in a decade and has remained stable for five years, indicating that added focus on violence against women is having an effect. In 2010, women and girls nationwide experienced about 270,000 rapes or sexual assaults, compared with 556,000 in 1995.
But as violent crimes overall have declined, rapes and sexual assault rates involving women have plateaued.
The president pointed out that 1 in 5 women will be raped during their lifetime, showing the continued need for action nearly two decades after the bill’s original passage in 1994.
“It didn’t just change the rules, it changed our culture. It empowered people to start speaking out,” Obama said.
Because the act had twice been renewed with little resistance, many were surprised in 2011 when lawmakers let it expire. But during an election year, there were partisan disagreements about expanded protections for gays and lesbians, Native Americans and illegal immigrants.
But in February, House Republicans finally allowed a vote, with the bill passing 286-138. It was the third time in two months that House Speaker John Boehner let a Democratic-supported bill reach the floor despite opposition from the majority of his own party.
“When I see how quickly it got done, I’m feeling – it makes me feel optimistic,” Obama said sarcastically, as he signed the bill.