Controversial Bill Includes Women in Same-Sex Couples for Help Against Domestic Violence


Women in same-sex relationships could get help against domestic violence under a proposed change in a federal law.

“Many same-sex couples cannot take advantage of programs because some states don’t allow them to be married,” said Kim Dill, the executive director of Sage Upstate.  It is an organization for elderly LGBTQ.  Said Dill: “This bill helps provide funding for those programs.”

The bill is the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011. It is up for renewal in Congress. It was originally enacted in 1994 and renewed in 2005. The law provides funding for counseling, shelters, and other legal services for women suffering from domestic violence. The revised version of the law also extends its protections to same-sex couples, illegal immigrants and Indian tribes in rural areas.

Those provisions are making the bill into a hot-button issue.  They have sparked controversy in Congress. As of early April, the bill had not come up for a vote in either the House or the Senate.

The bill has the support of New York’s two Senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats. U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-Onondaga Hill, is a long-time supporter of programs to help victims of domestic abuse and, according to The Post-Standard, wants to help craft a Republican version of the new legislation. She did not say whether she would include same-sex couples, illegal immigrants or Indian tribes.

Those groups are also victims of abuse, said Melissa Marrone, the program administrator of Vera House.  Vera House offers shelter and support for some victims of domestic abuse. “The fact that the bill is controversial is unreasonable,” Marrone said.  “You see domestic violence in both of these populations.”

Loren Cunningham is the education director of Vera House.  Programs authorized under the Violence Against Women Act are administered by the federal Office on Violence Against Women, she said.  The office funds 21 programs nationwide to help provide victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking with protective services.

Two of Vera House’s programs are directly funded through the Office on Violence Against Women.  Project Emerge is a system that provides comprehensive services to people with disabilities and deaf people who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence. And Engaging Men is a program that helps men learn about preventing sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

Cunningham stressed that both programs are now funded but might be cut back if the revised legislation did not pass.

It’s unclear how widespread domestic abuse is among same-sex couples. Many organizations that help victims of domestic violence do not collect data about sexual orientation.

But the fear of coming out to the community can prevent LGBTQ from getting help, said Dill of Sage Upstate. “The abuser might say ‘I’ll out you if you don’t do what I want,’” Dill said.

Despite fear of being outed, Dill said, it’s best if members of the LGBTQ community speak about their sexuality, especially if they are involved in domestic violence.  “If they can get to a place where they can come forward, it could be liberating,” Dill said.

But Dill stressed the importance of prevention before the abuse starts.  “Funding helps after the fact,” Dill said.  “Prevention is the key.”

(Kathleen Lees is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.)


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