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Violence Against Women Act reauthorised - what took you so long?

The VAWA will not solve every issue, but ensures that remedies are there when a woman makes a desperate plea for help.

Last Modified: 26 Mar 2013 08:17
Paige Flink

Paige Flink is executive director of The Family Place, the largest family violence service provider in Dallas, Texas, and an OpEd Project Public Voices fellow at Texas Woman’s University.
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The bill makes important improvements to existing immigration protections by encouraging victims to cooperate with law enforcement, which in turn gives them access to safe housing and counselling services [Getty Images]

For organisations working to stop violence against women in the US, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been a catalyst and a funding source, while raising awareness about efforts to stop violence against women.

For the last 18 months, domestic violence and sexual assault programmes have been in limbo waiting for Congress to reconcile different bills and stop using this critical law as a political football.

The wait is finally over. The new VAWA, signed into law by President Obama on March 7, will continue effective programmes, add expanded access and safety for vulnerable populations, and help break the cycle of violence which passes from generation to generation.

At The Family Place, we have seen firsthand the critical role VAWA has played in training police officers, enforcing protective orders across state lines, and providing critical funding for domestic violence services. 

As the largest domestic violence service provider in the Dallas area, we are seen as a critical partner to the Dallas Police Department in keeping women and children safe. When a police officer needs a safe place to bring a terrified woman and her child, The Family Place must be there to help. 

Though the crime rate in Dallas has been decreasing for the past nine years, we still have more than 13,000 domestic violence offences every year. In 2012, there were 26 domestic violence homicides compared to 10 in 2011. We need the coordinated community response provided for by VAWA to make sure we can address this horrible problem. 

The Dallas County District Attorney uses the provisions in VAWA to make sure batterers are held accountable for their actions. The funding provided for by VAWA helps ensure that when a woman calls, we will have a safe place for her and her children.  

"The Dallas County District Attorney uses the provisions in VAWA to make sure batterers are held accountable for their actions."

Lack of immigration status is a tool abusers frequently use to keep their victims from reporting crime and fleeing to safety. The bill makes important improvements to existing immigration protections by encouraging victims to cooperate with law enforcement, which in turn gives them access to safe housing and counselling services. 

Bilingual and bicultural services for Latino women are particularly important in Dallas. In 2011, residents of Hispanic or Latino origin accounted for 42.4 percent of the population in the city of Dallas, according to the US Census Bureau. However, only 29 percent of the victims reporting family violence are Hispanic.   

In the book, The Round House, by Louise Erdrich, a Native American woman from the Ojibwe tribe is raped by a non-Native man on tribal land. It accurately outlines the struggles to prosecute the abuser and find justice for the victim because of jurisdiction gaps.

Thanks to the new law, a key provision recognises the authority of tribes to prosecute domestic violence crimes against Indian and non-Indian perpetrators. For a segment of the population, which has some of the highest rates of domestic violence, this bill is an incredible relief.

The bill also throws light on the high rates of teen dating violence and sexual assault experienced by youth. To adequately engage youth in solving the problem on their own terms, schools, and domestic violence and youth serving agencies must work together to help kids understand healthy relationships and stop the violence before it starts.

Other important provisions include funding to improve responses to sexual assault, processing of the backlog of rape kits, protections for LGBT victims against discrimination in accessing services and expanded housing protections to help victims escape when needed.   

Those who voted for this bill have proven that they support stopping violence against women. This life and death problem needs every tool available to help change the course for women who often feel they have no options. The VAWA will not solve every issue, but ensures that remedies are there at the most important time - when a woman makes a cry for help.

Paige Flink is executive director of The Family Place, the largest family violence service provider in Dallas, Texas, and an OpEd Project Public Voices fellow at Texas Woman’s University. 

Follow her on Twitter: @paigeflink

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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