A federal bill designed to protect victims of domestic violence, and other crimes against women, is hanging in the balance. And local advocates on the front lines are bracing themselves for a bit of a battle.
The Office on Violence Against Women is part of the Department of Justice created in 1995. It provides services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence and keeps offenders accountable. There’s growing worry in advocacy circles that the legislation behind it may be at risk. They’re worried it may be used as a political pawn this election year.
The women who run the Turning Point Rape Crisis Center in Plano are growing concerned about the federal bill they've come to rely on.
“VAWA needs to be protected and prioritized,” said Turning Point Rape Crisis Center Executive Director Jennifer Spugnardi.
It's the Violence Against Women Act she's talking about. Right now, Turning Point has a grant through VAWA to train police agencies in Collin County.
“What this funding from VAWA allows the Turning Point to do is make sure that all those agencies are on the same page, so they all know the procedure and protocol for acute sexual assault cases,” said Spugnardi.
In a statement, Cornyn told us he voted for a proposal to reauthorize VAWA, in a fiscally responsible way.
The bill that passed committee would provide more services to the LBGT community and expand citizenship opportunities to immigrants who are victimized.
Provisions many local advocates support.
“It`s just Ludacris what some of these poor women have to go through, because that is held over their head, I`m going to have you deported if you tell anybody,” said Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center Jana Barker.
Cornyn believes the current legislation would broaden loopholes in immigration laws without reducing fraud and abuse in the system.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee, of which I’m a member, recently considered several proposals to reauthorize VAWA, as it does every 5 years. I cosponsored and voted for a proposal that not only would reauthorize VAWA, but would do so in a fiscally responsible way and would include provisions that are specifically tailored to address some of our top challenges in Texas,” said Sen. John Cornyn in a statement.
Cornyn wants VAWA's reauthorization to include: Language to increase grantee accountability, to close loopholes in sex-trafficking laws; to alleviate the nationwide rape kit backlog.
Cornyn says he supports bipartisan efforts to reauthorize VAWA in that way.
“Congress must work together to pass a bipartisan consensus piece of legislation that focuses directly on reauthorizing VAWA programs in a fiscally responsible way. I strongly support all efforts to reauthorize VAWA in this way,” he said.
Turning Point says their current VAWA grant is 10 percent of their whole budget.
“Maybe there are things about the bill that needs to be changed, which is great and is part of the political process, but let`s not throw the baby out with the bath water, and let`s make sure we`re keeping the core services that VAWA funds,” said Spugnardi.
The VAWA legislation will head to the Senate floor for a vote.