After more than a year of bitter partisan fighting, Congress on Thursday finally reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, including new provisions that will extend the law's protections for gay, lesbian, transgender and Native American victims of domestic violence. It's about time.
There is no rational explanation for why lawmakers took so long to reauthorize this legislation, which was first enacted in 1994 and had been renewed twice with broad bipartisan support. Admittedly, the revised law covers a broader group of victims. That was apparently too much for some Republicans in the House, who sought to substitute a weaker bill for the one passed by the Senate, arguing that the new protections either went too far or were prone to fraud.
What the newly reauthorized legislation will actually do is provide help to all victims of domestic violence, regardless of their sexual orientation, immigration status or where the assault took place. It will, for example, expand the authority of tribal courts over non-Native American men who commit assault or rape on reservations. That's important because Native American women are 21/2 times more likely to be raped than those in the general population, yet if they are assaulted on Indian land by a non-Native American, their only recourse is to plead their case to overworked federal prosecutors, who often allow such allegations to fall through the cracks. The expanded act will provide protections to same-sex couples. It will preserve the protection given to undocumented women, by allowing them to apply for a special permit, known as a U visa, which provides temporary legal status to victims who help police investigate crimes. And it will toughen penalties for sex trafficking.