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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Angelina Jolie has long been an advocate for the Violence Against Women Act. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

With the Violence Against Women Act in the balance, Angelina Jolie goes to D.C.

The legislation, which creates programs and responses to all forms of gender violence, expired two years ago and has yet to be renewed.

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Actress, activist and humanitarian Angelina Jolie visited the White House on Wednesday, Sept. 15 to meet with officials and discuss the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a monumental piece of legislation championed by President Joe Biden.

Jolie met with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Communications Director Kate Bedingfield and White House Gender Policy Council co-chair Jennifer Klein. The day before, Jolie was on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers about the bill.

VAWA creates programs and support in response to all forms of gender violence, but it expired more than two years ago. In March, the House voted to reauthorize it, but the Senate has not.

The bill the House passed this year builds on previous versions of the VAWA by approving grants and other forms of support to prevent and combat sexual abuse, domestic and dating violence, and stalking and deliver assistance to survivors. 

Reauthorizing VAWA faces uncertainty in the Senate. With a 50-50 partisan split, it’s unclear whether there will be enough Republican support for it to pass. 

“Jolie is in D.C for a second day meeting with senior White House and DOJ officials, and senators to continue to advocate for the rights of women and children and health in families,” a spokesperson for Jolie told CBS News. 

"In her meetings, she will talk about the importance of VAWA reauthorization, FBI reforms, judicial training, and health equity including non-biased forensic evidence collection,” the spokesperson said. 

Psaki tweeted about the meeting with Jolie, commending her for her tireless efforts and commitment to fighting for women, children and families. 

Jolie briefly stopped by the press briefing room on Wednesday and spoke to reporters on why she believes the legislation needs reauthorization. 

“It's a health crisis, what is happening. And it’s going to be solved if we look at it as health and families and invest. And there is the harm within the families, especially for the children and getting the care early, and the prevention,” she said. 

Jolie said she had good, bipartisan meetings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and described them as “encouraging.”

Jolie also said on Wednesday that she would be attending meetings on the legislation with the Department of Justice and Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa. 

Ernst is also fully determined to see VAWA become authorized, but has qualms with the most recent version of the bill that the House passed. 

In an op-ed published earlier this year in USA Today, Ernst wrote about her experience as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, and the problem with the section of the bill on “Restorative Practice.”

This practice funds programs that allow an abuser to negotiate with their victim in the name of “collectively seeking accountability from the accused.” Ernst finds a major flaw in this approach however, as it puts the responsibility on stopping abuse on the survivor. 

“Abuser and survivor in the same room, forced to negotiate. The bill states restorative practice would be ‘on a voluntary basis,’ but given the way a victim has suffered, it won't feel voluntary. Nothing about these crimes is voluntary,” Ernst wrote. 

Ernst introduced a modernized version of the bill that holds predators accountable for their actions and supports survivors in all communities. 

“I will work with anyone on a bipartisan bill that increases funding for needed programs and makes appropriate, and necessary, updates to the law. Women have fought too long to not be held responsible for the actions of their abusers. I cannot support legislation that would return us to the past,” she said.

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