US President Barack Obama [official profile] signed into law [remarks] an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) [text, PDF; JURIST news archive] on Thursday. The VAWA, originally passed in 1994, provides legal assistance, counseling and other resources for victims of rape and domestic abuse. The law expired in 2011. The updated VAWA includes new protections for gays, lesbians and Native Americans [WP report]. In his remarks accompanying the bill signing, Obama underscored the VAWA's importance in aiding victims of sexual violence:
[O]ne of the great legacies of this law is that it didn't just change the rules; it changed our culture. It empowered people to start speaking out. It made it okay for us, as a society, to talk about domestic abuse. It made it possible for us, as a country, to address the problem in a real and meaningful way. And it made clear to victims that they were not alonethat they always had a place to go and they always had people on their side.The bill reauthorizes the VAWA for five years.
Since its expiration in 2011, the reauthorization of the VAWA has been controversial. Last week the US House of Representatives [official website] approved [JURIST report] the VAWA by a vote of 286-138. The Senate [official website] approved [JURIST report] the same version of the bill earlier in February. House Republicans initially sought to pass a version of the bill that excluded specific protections [NYT report] for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims of domestic violence. Last month UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo [official profile] urged [UN press release; JURIST report] the US Congress to renew the VAWA. In 2011 Manjoo issued a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] which found a continued prevalence of violence against women and discriminatory treatment of women in the US, with a heightened impact on poor, minority and immigrant women. Last year the Republican-led House and the Democratic-controlled Senate both passed versions of the VAWA reauthorization but were unable to reach a compromise [AP report] over the prosecutorial power of tribal courts.