One of the biggest pieces of legislation that helps women in violent situations seek help is the Violence Against Women Act. This law was signed into effect by Bill Clinton, and was a bipartisan piece of legislation when it was originally authored in 1996. However, with both houses of Congress increasingly polarized, the Violence Against Women Act is in danger of expiring completely by the end of the year.
Currently, a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act has passed with bipartisan support in the United States Senate with a 68-31 total vote. However, the House of Representatives is Republican controlled, unlike the Senate, and has so far blocked passage of the bill.
Supporters of the Violence Against Women Act point to the over sixty percent reduction in overall rates of domestic violence in the United States since the passage of VAWA. However, with only two more weeks in the legislative session before the law expires, it seems increasingly unlikely that Congress will be able to push through a bill so that Obama can sign it back into law before most of its provisions expire.
The blocking of the Violence Against Women Act was considered by some women's rights activists to be part of the “war on women” that they claim Republicans are waging. According to these activists, the VAWA renewal block is just another example of policies unfriendly to women's rights, including resistance to paycheck fairness and anti discrimination laws.
Before the Violence Against Women Act, it was sometimes difficult for police and prosecutors to be able to actually prosecute and convict abusers, even those who had repeatedly been violent toward a spouse or live-in partner. Stalking was also a crime that was difficult to file a criminal charge for.
In addition to blocking the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, Republicans in the House of Representatives have also held up an increase in the issuance of U visas. This is a type of immigration visa that is issued only to women who have been abused or raped.
If Congress does not vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in the December “lame duck” session before the holiday recess, the legislative process to enact the VAWA will need to begin all over. This may mean significant changes or modifications to the act's wording or even its basic core elements.
Sources: senate.gov, house.gov