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Senate Looks to Pass Violence Against Women Act

On Monday, the Senate took up the Violence Against Women Act in an effort to fix the failure from last year to extend and expand the law that protects women from domestic abuse, according to the Associated Press. The Senate is also looking to expand the coverage of the law to include gays, lesbians, and Native Americans.

The law is from 1994 and it expired in 2011, despite efforts from both the Senate and the House to extend the law. The Senate bill is pretty much the same as the one that passed its chambers in April with a 68-31 vote. The bill makes sure that immigrants, college students, gays, lesbians, Native Americans, transgender people and bisexuals all have access to programs for anti-abuse. A final vote on the bill could happen by the end of this week.

The bill, known as VAWA, “has been extraordinarily effective” when it comes to fighting domestic violence, according to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy. Leahy noted that since the bill was passed the first time, the annual incidence for domestic violence has decreased by over 50 percent.

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A key sponsor of the bill, Senator Patty Murray, said that she is going to encourage moderate Republicans within the House to sign onto the bill in the Senate.

“We continue to work with VAWA advocates on the best path forward to ensure we protect women and prosecute offenders,” said Doug Heye, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Violence against Native American women has hit ‘epidemic proportions,’ according to the National Congress of American Indians. The group cited data that shows 39 percent of American Indian and Alaska native women are subjected to violence by their partner during their lifetimes. Other data the group cited was a government report from 2010 that said United States attorneys declined to prosecute half of violent crimes that happened in Indian country. The data said that two-thirds of those cases that were declined had sexual abuse in them.

Debby Tucker, the executive director of the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, said that she is “cautiously optimistic” that differences can be put aside by politicans. “I just hope that they realize that people’s basic health and safety have to be elevated above political considerations,” she said.

State and local offices are provided grants via the VAWA legislation that helps with transitional housing, legal assistance, stalker databases, law enforcement training, and domestic violence hotlines. The bill also created the Office on Violence Against Women within the Justice Department.

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