On February 2, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Even though VAWA has a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, the eight Republicans on the committee voted against this critical piece of legislation. Now the Act goes to the full Senate for consideration.
First authored by then Senator Biden in 1994, VAWA provides funding to states and local communities to improve the criminal justice response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. VAWA supports specialized law enforcement units to investigate these crimes and helps prosecutors get dangerous offenders off the streets. VAWA also protects victims living in subsidized housing from being evicted after suffering domestic violence, supports training for health care providers, and brings help to victims in rural areas of the country. The hallmark of VAWA is the coordinated community response, bringing different agencies together to create a seamless approach to combating violence.
One day’s look at the headlines tells us why we still need VAWA. Domestic violence often spills into streets, workplaces, and communities, and is estimated to cost our nation 8 billion dollars a year in lost productivity and health care costs. This violence causes more than two million injuries each year, three deaths each day, and untold amounts of suffering to women. The hidden crime of stalking affects 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men, and sexual assault remains the most underreported violent crime in the country. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been sexually assaulted at some time in their lives, most before the age of 18.
It's fitting that the Senate Judiciary Committee took up VAWA during Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month, because teens and young adults are at THE highest risk for this violence. The proposed legislation provides funding to schools, youth groups, and victim service agencies to develop new strategies to intervene in and prevent dating violence and sexual assault. If we can stop violence in this generation, some day we won’t need these services. But today, the need is still urgent. We need the full Senate to approve VAWA reauthorization and for Congress to send this legislation to President Obama to sign into law this year.