Domestic violence victims deserve leadership in Washington.
Since it was enacted nearly two decades ago, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has helped victims of domestic and sexual violence in every state across the country. These victims deserve leadership in Washington, and that is why the Senate acted quickly this year to pass legislation to reauthorize VAWA with the support of 78 Senators, including all women senators, every Democrat and a majority of Republicans. The House should act in that same bipartisan spirit to reauthorize this important law.
Around one in four women has been the victim of severe physical domestic violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nearly one in five women has been raped in her lifetime. About 30 percent of rapes are reported to the police.
The VAWA reauthorization bill passed in the Senate sharpens law enforcement’s focus on sexual assault prevention with increased funding, improved training, and a new push to address the backlog of sexual assault evidence to help build stronger cases that result in convictions. Importantly, the Senate bill covers all victims of domestic and sexual violence regardless of their sexual orientation or their immigrant status. More victims will be able to receive the services they need under the Senate-passed VAWA bill.
The Violence Against Women Act, which I was proud to coauthor with Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), ensures that college students are informed of the resources available to them if they are victims of sexual assault or stalking, and of their school’s planned response to such crimes. This important provision will have a real impact for students like a young woman at Amherst College, who last year was raped by a classmate and who bravely stepped forward in the pages of her school newspaper to describe the lack of response from school administrators to the crime.
In my home state of Vermont, a woman was brutally beaten by her estranged husband, who broke into her home and poured industrial-strength lye on her, severely burning a great deal of her body and nearly blinding her. In Colorado in December, a man who was released from jail on domestic violence charges killed his ex-girlfriend, her sister, her sister’s husband and eventually himself. Provisions in the Senate-passed VAWA bill support methods that have proven to be effective in preventing domestic violence homicides and severe attacks by training law enforcement, victim service providers, and court personnel to identify high-risk victims and connect them with crisis intervention services. These kinds of programs might have had a shot of helping to avert terrible tragedies in Vermont and Colorado and across the country.
Despite these abhorrent stories, there have been many successes since the Violence Against Women Act became law in 1994. Every state now considers stalking a crime, and rape statutes at the state level have been greatly strengthened. The annual incidence of domestic violence has dropped by half, and we have helped to provide victims with critical services like housing and legal protection.
Still, much is left to be done. Unfortunately, the reauthorization measure put forth by House Republicans fails to provide critical protections for rape victims, domestic violence victims, human trafficking victims, students on campuses, or stalking victims. House Republican leaders should not revert to their partisan ways that stalled action on this important matter last year, and instead to take up the Senate’s bipartisan bill as even some in the House Republicans conference have recently suggested.
As a husband, father, and grandfather, and as a former prosecutor who saw the aftermath of this type of violence firsthand, I know that we can and must do better. That is why the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act passed by the Senate seeks to protect all victims. Congress must deliver for the service providers, law enforcement officials and victims throughout the country who have already waited long enough. I remain ready to work with Republicans and House Speaker John Boehner to reauthorize this landmark law.
The survivors of domestic and sexual violence are counting on us.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.