When Congress reconvenes this week women's rights advocates want law makers to pass a long term reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
The act has been re-authorized before, but expired September 30, 2011, however Congress has continued to fund the legislation through extensions.
Both the House and Senate have passed reauthorization measures, but the legislation is stalled because the versions differ. The Senate version includes protections for same-sex couples, immigrants and Native Americans.
The House version does not.
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN ) voted for the Senate version.
“As mayor of Chattanooga, Sen. Corker saw firsthand the importance of making resources available to victims of violent crime,” Corker Spokeswoman Laura Herzog said. “About 90% of this legislation has broad bipartisan support, and we hope the differences can be resolved in a conference with the House.”
Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN 7) voted for the House version.
“As a mother and grandmother, it is extremely important to me that VAWA is re-authorized in order to ensure that victims of violence have access to the care they need and the justice they deserve,” she said. “Many of the women in Congress, like me, have worked in their own states to establish domestic violence and child advocacy centers. It is essential that these kinds of programs be in place to protect victims, not just from physical bruises, but from the emotional and mental scars as well. “
The Speaker of the House has appointed House members as conferees to negotiate a version of the bill that will pass both chambers. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has yet to appoint Senate conferees.
The act provides funding for domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and other initiatives to combat domestic and sexual abuse.
“This funding is specific to keep women and children safe and hold offenders accountable,” Mary Parrish Center Executive Director Valerie Wynn said. “[Without it] we would close and several shelters around Tennessee would close.”
The Mary Parrish Center is a transitional housing program for women who have been the victim of physical and sexual abuse. Women can live in the program for up to two years.
The center was awarded a three year $250,000 grant through the Violence Against Women Act in 2009.
“You ultimately do save that life and more importantly you save the lives of the children,” Wynn said. “You stop the cycle.”
Tennessee ranks fifth in the nation for women killed by men.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, in 2011 52.1% of crimes against persons were domestic violence related. There were more than 84,000 domestic violence cases reported.
In Metro-Nashville there were 12,518 reported domestic violence cases, seven murders connected to domestic violence and more than 10,000 assaults.
The Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence estimates that between $5 and $8 million flows into Tennessee from the Violence Against Women Act.
“This is truly the life blood of services for women and children and survivors of domestic violence,” Wynn said.
One of Mary Parrish Center's employees knows the importance of the resources first hand.
Melissa Newman was able to escape a violent relationship she with her son's father with the help of 2-1-1 and resources available to the victims of domestic violence.
“It gets bigger and if we don't have the resources to stop the cycle, like with addiction, its going to continue and get worse,” she said.
Newman now helps women and men who call the Mary Parrish Center for help.
When Congress reconvenes it will be its final legislative session before the presidential election.
Lawmakers are expected to pass another extension to keep the government funding the act this week.