The greatest two commandments are to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. In fact, Jesus says that the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22: 34-40). The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) — the single most important legislation for addressing and preventing domestic and sexual violence — also hinges on this command to love our neighbor. In a world where 1 in 3 women will be the victim of sexual or domestic violence, we must pursue solutions that will protect our neighbors.
VAWA expired back in February, leaving shelters and survivors worried about their futures. However, on March 7, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.) introduced an expanded version of VAWA in the House. While it’s been introduced bipartisanly, it’s almost entirely supported by Democrats, who comprise 110 of its 111 co-sponsors. VAWA is reauthorized every five years and with each new reiteration has been expanded to offer new services for communities and individuals that are suffering. In the latest proposed legislation, many Republicans object to assisting two of the communities designated for special protections: Native Americans and transgender individuals.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) stated, “Democrats have rushed to markup a bill that, in our opinion, would endanger women.” Collins’ words are simply hateful and wrong. Native American women and transgender individuals face some of the highest rates of violence of any group in the United States. The protections extended in VAWA only begin to address the violence faced by these groups. Specifically, it allows for tribes’ jurisdiction to prosecute non-Natives who commit sexual violence on their lands and prevents discrimination based on one’s sexual or gender identity.
During the bill’s markup, some Republicans on the Judiciary Committee offered a number of amendments that would have repealed the protections that VAWA offers these groups. For example, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) offered an amendment that would have repealed all the protections granted to Native Americans in the 2013 VAWA reauthorization. Thankfully, Rep. Sensenbrenner’s amendment failed, along with all other harmful amendments that were introduced. By providing additional resources to these communities, VAWA is not endangering other women by taking away services from them – instead, it is ensuring that those who are most impacted are able to access the help they need to begin to heal. By careful stewardship of VAWA’s resources, we can ensure that we are showing our love and concern for all our neighbors — no exceptions — during some of the darkest moments in their lives.
As Christians, we must remember that Jesus suffered the pain of abuse to the point of death on the cross, but violence is not the end of his story. Through his resurrection, light triumphed over darkness, abuse lost to new life. Jesus’s liberating message of hope and new life is meant for all, and as people of faith, it is our job to share this message with everyone. We don’t get to decide that some of our neighbors are worthy of our love while forsaking the rest.
This is why we must demand that our representatives support the Violence Against Women Act and its attempts to recognize underserved communities and provide them with additional services, so that one day, its goal of ending violence against women may be recognized.