November 30, 2011
WASHINGTON – Nearly 20 years after the Violence Against Women Act was first signed into law, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced bipartisan legislation Wednesday to further strengthen and improve the programs authorized under the landmark law to assist victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The legislation is cosponsored by Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first enacted in 1994 and has been the centerpiece of the federal government’s efforts to stamp out domestic and sexual violence. Critical programs authorized under VAWA include support for victim services, transitional housing, and legal assistance. Leahy worked to secure reauthorization of the law in 2000 and in 2005.
“As a prosecutor in Vermont, I saw firsthand the destruction caused by domestic and sexual violence,” said Leahy. “Those were the days before VAWA, when too often people dismissed these serious crimes with a joke, and there were few, if any, services for victims. We have come a long way since then, but there is much more we must do.”
“These dollars go directly to woman and children who have been victimized by domestic violence,” Crapo said. “The reauthorization of VAWA provides critical services to these victims of violent crime, as well as agencies and organizations who provide important aid to those individuals. I have been a strong supporter of prevention and elimination of domestic abuse since coming to Congress, and I intend to continue to fight to keep these funds intact for women and children.”
Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has held a number of hearings in recent years focusing on the ongoing need for assistance for domestic and sexual violence victims and survivors, particularly at a time of economic downturn. As chairman, Leahy invited testimony from representatives from Vermont’s Women Helping Battered Women and the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. In Vermont, VAWA funding helped the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence provide services to more than 7,000 adults and nearly 1,400 children in the last year alone, by providing shelter, transitional housing, counseling, and legal assistance.
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act includes important all-state minimum funding formulas for key grant programs, to ensure that small, rural states like Vermont have access to the victim services grants authorized under VAWA, including STOP grants, grants under the Sexual Assault Services Program, the Rural Program, Rape Prevention Education grants, and transitional housing grants, and includes important definitions to ensure that Vermont remains an eligible state under the definition of a rural jurisdiction. Leahy has long championed all-state minimum funding formulas for a variety of federal grant assistance programs.
“The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act reflects Congress’s ongoing commitment to end domestic and sexual violence,” said Leahy. “It seeks to expand the law’s focus on sexual assault and to ensure access to services for all victims of domestic and sexual violence. The Violence Against Women Act has been successful because it has consistently had strong bipartisan support for nearly two decades. I am honored to work now with Senator Crapo to build on that foundation. I hope that Senators from both parties will support this bill, which will provide safety and security for victims across America.”
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act includes several updates and improvements to the law, including:
- An emphasis on the need to effectively respond to sexual assault crime by adding new purpose areas and a 25 percent set-aside in the STOP state formula grant program and the Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders Program, to ensure continued intensive response to domestic violence and other offenses;
- Improvements in tools to prevent domestic violence homicides by training law enforcement, victim service providers, and court personnel on identifying and managing high risk offenders and connecting high risk victims to crisis intervention services;
- Improvements in responses to the high rate of violence against women in tribal communities by strengthening concurrent tribal criminal jurisdiction over perpetrators who assault Indian spouses and dating partners in Indian country;
- Measures to strengthen housing protections for victims by applying existing housing protections to nine additional federal housing programs;
- Measures to promote accountability to ensure that federal funds are used for their intended purposes;
- Consolidation of programs and reductions in authorizations levels to address fiscal concerns, and renewed focus on programs that have been most successful;
- Technical corrections to updates definitions throughout the law to provide uniformity and continuity throughout the law.
The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized in 2000 and again in 2005, each time with bipartisan support. The law expired in September. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act will provide a five year authorization for VAWA programs, and reduce authorized funding levels by more than $144 million, or 19 percent, from the law’s 2005 authorization.
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