Op-Ed by Vice President Biden on the 20th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act
In advance of his remarks on Tuesday to commemorate next Saturday’s 20th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, Vice President Biden penned the following op-ed in Delaware’s The News Journal.
The hard fight to end violence against women
Even just 20 years ago, violence against women in America was an epidemic few people wanted to talk about, let alone do something about. No one denied punching a wife in the face or pushing her down the stairs was reprehensible. But most people refused to intervene. They called domestic violence a "family affair." Critics of proposed laws protecting women from this violence claimed they would lead to the "disintegration" of the family.
Today, it's hard for many people to fathom a day in which Americans ignored this violence, or worse, condoned it. But it's true. And it was against that backdrop I introduced the Violence Against Women (VAWA) in 1990, the first federal law that directly held violence against women as a violation of basic civil rights and fundamental human dignity.
It had three simple goals. Make streets safer for women. Make homes safer for women. Protect women's civil rights. It met those goals comprehensively by: increasing violence prevention, investing in shelters, enhancing services, and training police, lawyers, and even judges to better investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate domestic violence cases. But it took four years for the bill to get signed into law in 1994.
It was a struggle with setbacks, but also a journey that has changed America. Sparsely attended Senate hearings at first led to hundreds of pages of testimony by survivors, health professionals, and advocates. I issued "Violence Against Women: A Week in the Life of America," a report detailing the human tragedy of the 21,000 crimes against women that were reported every week in America at the time – a small slice of the 1.1 million assaults, aggravated assaults, murders, and rapes against women committed in the home and reported to police that year. With the help of supporters, we surveyed laws across all 50 states that implied "if you knew her, it wasn't a crime."
And throughout I met true heroes: women, like Carol Post here in Delaware, who ran shelters, coalitions, and rape crisis centers supported by no more than bake sales and good intentions. Survivors who had their arms broken with hammers and their heads hit with pipes by their partners, but who still summoned absolute courage to stand up and share their story.
It is because of them that VAWA is a law that has saved lives – yearly domestic violence rates dropped 64 percent from 1993-2010. It has saved the country money – one study shows the law saved an estimated $12.6 billion in averted social costs in its first six years alone. It has improved justice – higher rates of prosecution for special-victims units, like the Family Division established by Attorney General Beau Biden, and new waves of state law reforms. Services, technology and forensic collection, and education and prevention efforts have all dramatically improved.
Fundamentally, the Violence Against Women Act has changed a prevailing culture from a refusal to intervene to a responsibility to act – where violence against women is no longer accepted as a societal secret and where we all understand that even one case is too many.
This law is my proudest legislative accomplishment, and it was based on something my Dad taught me growing up in Wilmington: that the cardinal sin is an abuse of power, and the ultimate abuse of power is someone physically raising a hand to strike and beat a woman or child.
We know there is still more to do, but years of struggle and progress have spurred a national understanding that you can't talk about human rights and human dignity without talking about the right of every woman on this planet to be free from violence and free from fear.