A Show Of Solidarity
Last Wednesday the Seattle Women's Commission held public testimony in support of the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act, a bill originally passed in 1994 and reauthorized twice previously across bipartisan lines. The act expired last year, and sits in limbo until the House and Senate can agree on provisions of its re-authorization.
The House and Senate have each passed their own versions of the bill, but each chamber is unable to reconcile their differences. The main area of contention: The Senate Bill extends protections and grant money to LGBTQ, Native Americans, and immigrant victims of violence and domestic assault.
"The House passed a bill different from the Senate bill," explained Mary Conway, a speaker from Senator Patty Murray's office. "The Senate bill extends protections to LGBT, Native and Immigrant victims. These extensions are noticeably absent from the House bill."
"Senator Murray is leading the fight for a strong bill. How to get there is increasingly challenging."
Experts and Advocates.
Locally Washington's Representatives are split evenly along party lines: Republicans Reichert, Herrera Beutler, Hastings and McMorris Rodgers voted for the House bill, and Democrats Larsen, Dicks, McDermott and Smith voted against it. Rep Inslee's former district was left vacant as he pursues his run for the governor's office.
"One Representative [in the house] said that since the federal government doesn't recognize LGBT relationships, we shouldn't recognize the violence that happens within them," reported an exasperated Kristin Tucker, of the Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse. "LGBTQ folks experience rates of domestic violence at the same rates!"
Another point of contention is the bills protection for non-immigrant victims of domestic violence, many who are legally allowed to live in the U.S. through marriage. The house bill would require victims of abuse to have their reports verified before receiving assistance.
"Immigrant survivors of domestic violence are everywhere, but they are afraid to come out of the shadows," said Jenny Mashek of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. "An immigrant who is vulnerable is made all the more vulnerable by an abuser who says 'call the police on me, I'll have you deported'. The House bill says that if a nonimmigrant contacts a domestic violence agency for help, they will call their abuser to verify their story."
The Senate bill also works to clear up jurisdictional issues that prevent Native American women living on tribal land from pressing charges against their abusers.
"Safety is a basic human right," said Abigail Echo-Hawk, Commissioner of the Seattle Women's Commission. "If you live on the east side, stand outside Dave Reichert's office with a sign that's says "We love [the Senate version] of VAWA".
"We are all in this together," affirmed Mashek.