Maryland domestic violence advocates beware, the U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to renew the 1994 Violence against Women Act. There is skepticism that the extension of the law will provide adequate domestic violence protections as it does not extend explicit protection to illegal immigrants, Native Americans, and homosexuals. The bill was narrowly voted in with six Democrats joining the 216 Republicans in favor of the bill, while 23 Republicans joined the 182 Democrats opposed to the bill.
The bill that passed would merely extend the funding for programs designed to combat domestic violence as well as those to help victims. It also provides for more harsh penalties against those guilty of committing domestic violence, while increasing resources for investigations, prosecution, and victim services. President Barack Obama favored a bipartisan version of the bill with additional considerations such as the explicit inclusions mentioned above; however the Democratic Party feels that this option was ignored in favor of the extension.
Aside from the Democratic Party, other organizations are considered to be skeptical of the protections provided in the extension, including the American Bar Association, the National Organization of Women and others. Republicans declined to produce a list of organizations in support of the bill in response to the Democrats' list of those in opposition. Although unverified, Nancy Pelosi states that law enforcement officials believe the bill to be restrictive in its protections and provisions as well.
So what does this bill mean for domestic violence victims? For Maryland residents who have suffered or are suffering from domestic violence, the bill may not cause a negative impact on their situation; it just may not add additional support and funding to protect victims. Domestic violence affects the victim, their children and families, their work or school situation, and their emotional and financial stability. It is important that advocates and victims understand what the law provides for protection and support so that victims can get the help that they need before the situation becomes more volatile.
Source: Reuters, "Divided U.S. House approves domestic violence bill," Thomas Ferraro, May 16, 2012