Failure to pass Violence Against Women Act could slam a key D.A. unit.

Women’s Action: “The victim assistance team really provides support of victims in what is most often the worst possible moment in their lives.” Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hulsey says.

Congress’ inaction on a women’s protection law could result in less services for local victims of rape and domestic violence, advocates say.

The Violence Against Women Act expired in late 2011, and a divided U.S. Congress hasn’t been able to agree on reauthorization.

Locally, this could mean a funding cut of about $112,000 from the Victim/Witness Unit of the Monterey County District Attorney’s office, Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hulsey says.

The five-person unit helps people – many of them domestic violence victims – navigate the criminal justice system. Advocates also help victims find food and shelter, and file for reimbursements for damages in crimes. VAWA funds two of the team’s positions – critical when advocate caseloads are already about 500 each. 

If the act isn’t reauthorized, it’s still possible for programs like the Victim/Witness Unit to continue receiving federal funding, according to U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel. But there’s no guarantee.

Last April the Senate voted to renew the bill, extending protections to native Americans, LGBT people and immigrants. But the House passed a less inclusive version – without Farr’s support – and the two bills were not reconciled. 

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“The House version had been gutted by the extreme right and lacked many key provisions passed by Democrats in the Senate,” Farr says.

A broader consequence of the law expiring is a loss in protections like the federal rape shield, which prevents offenders from using a victim’s past sexual conduct against them.

Senate Democrats are pushing for reauthorization, and some Republican women in the House are supporting the Dems’ proposals. Farr hopes a new, stronger law will be in place soon.

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