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Time to pass violence against women bill

Law has been a lifesaver; new bill could save even more

You’d think the words “violence against women” would be enough to get Congress to put partisanship aside and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. It hasn’t. Maybe some names will help.

• Jan. 1, 2012, Isidra Sarabio, 30, was shot and killed by her estranged husband Eladio Hernandez-Pelaez, 54, in Concord. He then killed himself.

• On May 6 of last year, 33-year-old Emanee Womack was allegedly beaten to death by her boyfriend, 31-year-old Sharrandon Adams, in Charlotte. Adams had been charged eight times in the last 15 years with assaulting women.

• And just two months ago, Leasa Harper Smith, 41, was reportedly killed by her boyfriend David Leonard, 65, in Nash County.

They were among at least 60 people killed in North Carolina last year as a result of domestic violence, and among thousands killed or hurt each year in violent acts against women nationwide.

They’re the kind of acts that the federal Violence Against Women law “has been extraordinarily effective” in combating, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.. Since VAWA was first passed in 1994, he said, the annual incidence of domestic violence has fallen by more than 50 percent because of education, safety and prosecution initiatives. The law protects male victims too.

Thankfully, these facts have held sway with U.S. senators. Last year, the Senate passed reauthorization by a 68-31 vote. They’re poised to reaffirm it again.

But the GOP-led House is a different matter. House members blocked renewal last time, and many still can’t say yes to what has been a savior to women nationwide and could help save a lot more.

House Republicans need to end their foot-dragging. Law enforcers provide insights as to why. They have been urging passage, tagging the law as an essential tool in helping prosecute offenders and in preventing assaults.

Sgt. Darrell Price of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Sexual Assault Cold Case Unit joined Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., recently in pushing for reauthorization. He said passage would help cut the backlog of processing rape kits, collecting DNA samples and other evidence in rape cases. The bill also provides for shelters and legal help for victims, regardless of their sexual orientation or immigration status.

That has been a sticking point for lawmakers who objected to protections for gays and undocumented immigrants. That’s a shameful discrimination. It allows some women to be put in harm’s way, and others not. That should not be allowed.

Some also objected to a provision giving tribal authority over accused assaulters. Tribal courts have no jurisdiction over assailants who don’t live on tribal lands. Those assailants often go unpunished when federal officials fail to prosecute. The National Congress of American Indians says violence against Native American women is at “epidemic proportions,” with 39 percent subjected to violence by a partner in their lifetimes. A 2010 government report found that U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute half of violent crimes on tribal lands, most involving sexual abuse.

Native American women deserve protections as much as other women. The law should cover all, not some, women.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has it right: “This is an equal-opportunity crime that harms people regardless of their political affiliation, their profession or their status in life.”

It’s time for lawmakers, especially House Republicans, to stop standing in the way of this bill’s passage. They’re standing in the way of saving lives.

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