In the 50 years since Betty Friedan’s "Feminine Mystique" opened a discussion of the oppression behind the American ideal of domesticity, we have seen significant progress in how society views violence against women, particularly violence in the home. The belief that domestic violence was a private matter has given way to state and federal legal protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.
The mainstay of the national response, the Violence Against Women Act, first passed in 1994, supports victim services like rape crisis centers, temporary housing for domestic violence survivors and programs to address violence against people with disabilities, among other critical services and protections.
All is not done, however. According to December 2011 figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women in the U.S. has been a victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime. Nearly one in five has been raped.
Given those figures, it is outrageous that Congress failed to renew Violence Against Women Act in its last session. The Senate and the House split over protections for immigrant women, with House members raising unfounded concerns about immigration fraud, despite existing checks against fraud and broad law enforcement support for the protections. House members also claimed the bill would restrict the constitutional rights of defendants, when it actually protects those rights while closing a legal loophole that has long allowed non-Native Americans to commit abuse on reservations. Protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered victims of violence also drew objections that the provisions would divert resources from the bill’s objectives, when, in fact, service providers nationwide had identified this as an area needing resources. The House's refusal to pass these protections and ensure that all women can seek protection from violence is one of its most shameful failures.
This session, the House should redeem itself by swiftly passing the new legislation, which was recently approved by the Senate. Doing so would show that progress toward realizing the right of every woman to a life free from violence has not stalled, and that the next 50 years will see this progress continuing to expand.