CHARLESTON — After voting against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Carol Miller sent a press release Friday promoting Violence Against Women Act funds being distributed to West Virginia.
In the release, Miller, a Republican representing West Virginia’s Third Congressional District, touted the release of four grants, totaling about $3.1 million, to be spent serving victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in West Virginia.
In April, Miller, along with the state’s two other representatives, David McKinley and Alex Mooney, voted against the Violence Against Women Act, also known as VAWA. While the bill passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, some Republicans were opposed to provisions of the act expanding protections to transgender people and to women who are victims of dating violence but don’t live with their partners.
Tom Moran, a spokesman for Miller, released a statement, saying:
“As a woman, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother, who represents a state where 1 in 3 women are victims of domestic violence, Congresswoman Miller understands the importance of ensuring women have resources, safeguards, and support when facing violence. She was proud to announce over $3 million in funding last week, and is committed to continuing to empower women in West Virginia.”
Democrats had wanted to increase VAWA funding.
“The funding for VAWA for victim services has continued to go down, and it needs to be reauthorized and it needs to be fully funded,” said Patricia Bailey, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center, a Beckley-based agency serving victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. “An increase in funds for VAWA means that we are going to be able to serve more victims and we’re going to be able to save lives.
“As important as this VAWA reauthorization is, I think people also need to know where our West Virginia people stand on these issues,” Bailey added. “And they don’t always stand with us, even though it seems like they might.”
First enacted in 1994, the passage of the Violence Against Women Act was the first time that domestic and sexual violence were recognized as crimes under federal law. Among other programs and services, VAWA funds rape crisis centers, domestic violence agencies, a hotline, prevention programs, legal assistance for survivors and grants for law enforcement to investigate crimes against women.
Congress has reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act several times to keep the funding in place. Last passed in 2013, the most recent version lapsed in 2018.
While the House passed the legislation, the Senate has yet to take up the bill.
West Virginia is receiving the grants because state officials and Child Protect of Mercer County applied for them, and Congress released the short-term funding as part of a short-term spending bill to stop another U.S. government shutdown in February.
In April, Miller gave a floor speech in opposition to the reauthorization of the bill. She said the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives “diluted important (funds) meant to help the victims, handcuffed law enforcement and reduced their effectiveness.
“Additionally, they’ve taken a bipartisan issue and used it to weaken the Second Amendment, reduce religious freedoms and even possibly cause further harm to victims,” she said in her speech.
Multiple national news outlets reported that the National Rifle Association opposed the bill because it closes what victim advocates call the “boyfriend loophole” and prohibits people convicted of dating violence from purchasing or owning a gun. Currently, the law only applies to spouses, those who lived with their partner, family members, and people who have a child together. The NRA did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Some Republicans also opposed the bill because of a provision permitting imprisoned transgender people to choose prisons that align with their gender identity, where research suggests they are less at risk of assault.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, published in 2017, found that from 2010-12, an estimated 240,000 West Virginia women had been victims of sexual violence, about one in three, and that about 157,000 West Virginia women had been victims of completed or attempted rape, about one in five. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, West Virginia women had the sixth highest rate of death by firearm in 2017, out of the 40 states for which Kaiser had data.
Bailey, executive director of WRC, said her organization receives VAWA funding, although it declines every year, she said.
They received STOP grant funding for teams of law enforcement, prosecutors and victims services advocates to coordinate on cases, she said. They also receive VAWA money for a grant to specifically serve sexual assault victims.
She said she found such press releases as Miller’s “misleading.”
Government officials, she said, focus too much sometimes on “definitions” – determining groups worthy of protection – for instance, women, LGBT people, transgender people. At the Women’s Resource Center, she said, they focus on protecting everybody.
“Everything I realize has a definition but sometimes when the federal government tries to determine these definitions, they end up hurting more than they end up helping,” she said.
She also noted that it’s common for new versions of VAWA to expand protections. She noted that in 2013, some opposed expanding protections to Native Americans. She noted that just a few years ago, strangulation wasn’t a felony in West Virginia.
She also said that “whether you are LGBT, no matter what you are, you have a right to live your life free of violence and have a right to receive services just like anybody else” and that “whether somebody lives with someone as an intimate partner or does not, for us a victim is a victim.”
If the Senate votes on VAWA reauthorization, it has the support of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, according to Grant Herring, a spokesman. Herring said, in an email, that Manchin supports passing VAWA and closing the boyfriend loophole.
Kelley Moore, spokeswoman for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said the senator has long been a staunch supporter of the important legislation, and she would fight for its appropriation as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Moore didn’t answer a question about whether Capito supported the bill in its form with transgender protections and the “boyfriend loophole” closed.
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