President Barack Obama reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on Thursday, saying that the law will continue to protect women from threats of sexual assault and domestic abuse.
“All women deserve the right to live free from fear,” Obama said at the signing ceremony at the Department of the Interior. “That’s what today is about.”
The VAWA was drafted by Vice President Joe Biden in 1994, and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. New additions to the 2013 bill included expanded protection for Native Americans, gays, lesbians and immigrants.
“This is a country where everybody should be able to pursue their own measure of happiness and live their lives free from fear, no matter who you are [or] who you love,” Obama said.
Native American women abused on tribal lands by non-tribal residents are now legally protected by the VAWA. Previously, non-tribal abusers could not be prosecuted by the tribal court systems.
The VAWA also extends coverage for undocumented immigrant victims, who are now protected from deportation if they report abuse by a partner.
“If you’re an undocumented immigrant, you may feel there’s too much to lose by coming forward,” Obama said. “The [VAWA] already hands protections to the victims to call police without fear of deportation. And those protections save lives.”
The bill authorizes approximately $659 million a year over five years for programs and services such as shelters for battered women and children and law enforcement training. Additionally, it focuses attention on preventing sexual assaults on college campuses and reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
The additional protection offered to gays, lesbians, immigrants and Native Americans has been a point of contention between Democrats and Republicans, with conservatives claiming that the ability for Native American courts to try non-native residents could be unconstitutional. The discussion came to an end when House Speaker John Boehner motioned for ceased internal debate and moved for the bill to be placed on the House floor, where it was passed by bipartisan vote.
The president impressed the need for continued progress in these areas over the coming years and promised the support of the entire administration.
“This is your day. This is the day of the advocates, the day of the survivors. This is your victory,” Obama said. “This victory shows that when the American people make their voices heard, Washington listens.”