It was one year ago this month that Alyssa Milano helped to elevate the Harry Weinstein conversation. She invited those who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to write “me too” on Twiter. It created a movement that still exists today. (Oct. 3)
WASHINGTON – The highly charged politics of the #MeToo movement and the gun control debate came together in the House Thursday when lawmakers voted 263 to 158 to renew a decades-old law to reduce domestic and sexual violence.
First enacted in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act enjoyed widespread support for years.
But, for the second time since 2013, efforts to renew and expand it have been complicated by partisan disputes.
Here’s what you need to know about the debate:
How it all started
Originally included in a 1994 omnibus crime package, the law primarily uses federal grants to help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking and to reduce those crimes.
It grew out of the aftermath of the 1992 elections, dubbed the Year of the Woman, after a record number of women were elected to the House and Senate following the galvanizing 1991 testimony of Anita Hill against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
Vice President Joe Biden, who was the lead author of the legislation, has said it was one of his top accomplishments from his lengthy Senate career.
Biden, who has recently been accused by at least four women of unwanted, inappropriate behavior, said in video Wednesday that he will be more “mindful and respectful” of people’s personal space.
The allegations against Biden come amid #MeToo, a movement started nearly a decade ago that went viral in 2017 as women in Hollywood and across the country began sharing stories of sexual harassment and assault.
The movement helped fuel the second Year of the Woman in the 2018 elections, which set a record for the number of women elected to Congress.
In the first few months of the new Congress, female lawmakers have been speaking out about their personal experiences, including as reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has been debated.
“I remember what it was like when you called the police and they didn’t come because your father was an important man in town,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said on the House floor Thursday. “We cannot go back to those days.”
The latest version of the law expired in December. Both parties want to extend the law, but disagree on changes.
The bill the Democratic-led House is expected to vote on Thursday would expand programs and broaden eligibility. Responding to the #MeToo movement, for example, the bill would create grants for programs addressing sexual harassment and bullying.
“We’re making it stronger with the legislation today with lifesaving updates that reflect the voices of victims and survivors and the input of experts,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
But it also includes a provision that has drawn the ire of the National Rifle Association.The bill would bar people convicted of stalking from being able to purchase firearms.
Democrats say they need to close what they call the “boyfriend loophole” to prevent people convicted of abusing dating partners from buying or owning guns.
The NRA argues that the change is too broad and would ensnare people for minor offenses such as a tweet.
Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) gave an impassioned speech about the Me Too movement and Brett Kavanaugh.
Tricky politics for some Republicans
The NRA’s opposition puts some Republicans in a tricky spot. They don’t want to get a low rating from the advocacy group, which holds sway with GOP voters. But Republicans in swing districts risk being attacked by Democrats for not standing up for women if they oppose the legislation.
When the law was last renewed in 2013, 87 House Republicans voted for it. Although previous versions of the law enjoyed wide bipartisan support, the two sides couldn’t agree on the last round of changes, which were aimed at helping gay and lesbian victims, Native Americans and immigrants in the country illegally.
This year, House Republicans wanted Democrats to pass an immediate, but shorter, extension of the law without changes.
“The Democratic bill on the floor today will collect dust in the Senate,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y. “Let’s pass this clean extension today.”
After the House rejected that approach, 33 Republicans voted for the bill.
Although the Republican-led Senate may not take up the Democrats’ version, House Democrats want to approve the most comprehensive bill they can before negotiating with Senate Republicans on a final version.
Extent of abuse
One in three women have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, according to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey. One in three female murder victims were killed by intimate partners, according to a 2008 study.
Men, too, can be victims of abuse. Nearly one-fifth of men report unwanted sexual contact at some point in their lives, according to the CDC.
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