Violence Against Women Hearings

The Judiciary Committee held hearings Tuesday on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which has become the backbone of our country’s fight to end domestic violence and sexual assault since it was first passed in 1994. The current Act will expire on September 30 of this year unless Congress and the President act.

Panelists at Tuesday’s hearing included Diane Stuart, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, Department of Justice; Mary Lou Leary, Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime; Lynn Rosenthal, Director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence; ML Carr, former Celtics player and coach and philanthropic working to engage men and boys to end domestic violence; and the Oscar-nominated actress, Salma Hayek.

Tribune News Service has a good summary of the hearing:

“This is not a Democratic or Republican bill,” said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who authored the act when it first passed in 1994. “This is about men and women who have been abused.”

According to the American Bar Association, 4 million women encounter domestic violence every year.

Hayek, who received an Oscar nomination for her lead role in the 2002 film “Frida,” represented the Avon Foundation. She said she became interested in the issue while doing research for a movie role at a California jail. Hayek said many of the jailed women had been affected by domestic violence.

“We have the numbers, but when we think of domestic violence, it is of a battered woman and a broken home,” Hayek said. “I believe this is the wrong message. The violence spreads much further from the walls of the home.”

For more in-depth information, a comprehensive report from September 2004 describing VAWA and the impact it’s had can be downloaded here. It’s worth the read.

To state it simply, the Violence Against Women Act is working. Since its enactment, domestic violence has dropped by almost 50%. Incidents of rape are down by 60%. The number of women killed by an abusive husband or boyfriend is down by 22%. More than half of all rape victims are stepping forward to report the crime. Over a million women have found justice in our courtrooms and obtained domestic violence protective orders. The signs of success abound.

But progress is not enough. Domestic violence and sexual assault persist; and this report will provide a snapshot of telling statistics. As more and more brave women are stepping forward to report a rape or seek a restraining order against an abusive husband, more demands are placed on women’s shelters, state prosecutors, courtroom victim advocates, and other resources. As we encourage victim reporting and swift responses by our criminal justice system, we must continue to create and support services for families in distress. We cannot let the Violence Against Women Act become a victim of its own success. Instead, we need to usher the Act into the 21st century and implement it with the next generation —recent police academy graduates who want to be trained on handling family violence, newly elected state legislators who want to update state laws on sexual assault, and the next generation of children who must be taught that abuse will not be tolerated.

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