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Editorial: An anti-violence protection in limbo

Congress’ failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act has left local organizations that aid women in an uneasy limbo — and that’s a ridiculous place to put people who provide services to abused women and children.

Under the act, federal money is allocated for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. The legislation also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.

On Jan. 3, Congress left Washington, D.C., without having resolved differences between the Senate and House versions legislation to reauthorize the 18-year-old act.

The Senate, with Democrats in the majority, wanted to expand the act’s protection to 30 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants. The Republican-controlled House did not.

Both chambers created and passed their own acts. President Obama promised to veto the House version and the House refused to take a vote on the Senate’s, effectively killing the act for now.

When Congress adjourned without reauthorizing the act, it put in doubt plans at Safe Passage, a women’s shelter and anti-violence organization in Northampton.

In July, Safe Passage kicked off a five-year plan to expand its direct-care services, children’s program and legal advocacy work and to reach out to more women and children in jeopardy.

“Now it’s sort of up in the air,” Safe Passage’s executive director, Mary Anne Winters, told us this week. “We have plans for expansion and there are ways we need to grow. This has made that more difficult.”

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Women and Community, Associate Director Rebecca Lockwood said inaction has affected local immigrant populations.

Lockwood said she and other staff are constantly trying to reach out to people new to America to help them understand that the center will aid them no matter their immigration status — and that those who are abused won’t be reported to authorities.

This is always a struggle, she said, made worse by Congress’ inability to approve legislation supporting the center’s promise.

We encourage our local legislators and all members of Congress to make a strong statement about their support for women and to make passage of the Senate’s version of the Violence Against Women Act an early and top priority — an agenda Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has already suggested.

Violence Against Women Act services should be extended to the LGBT community, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants. If a woman is suffering physical, sexual or emotional violence at the hands of a partner or an ex, as “one nation under God” — and a wealthy one, at that — it should be obvious that helping abused women is the right thing to do no matter her lifestyle or ethnicity.

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