Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act

Today, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vermont) and Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

First championed in 1994 by then-Senator Biden, VAWA transformed the nation’s response to domestic violence and sexual assault. VAWA has provided funding to states and local communities to develop specialized law enforcement units, provide services to victims, and improve prosecution of these crimes. Since the passage of the Act, the annual incidence of domestic violence has dropped by more than 50%.

While tremendous progress has been made, violence is still a significant problem facing women, men, families, and communities.  Three women die every day at the hands of husbands or boyfriends. Domestic violence causes two million injuries a year to women and untold amounts of human suffering. Domestic violence shelters are still full, hotlines are ringing, and for every victim who has come forward, many more are suffering alone. And it’s the nation’s youth who are most at risk – young women between the ages of 16-24 suffer from the highest rates of dating violence and sexual assault.

In these challenging times, reauthorizing VAWA is more essential than ever. VAWA helps states and local communities maintain basic services for victims while strengthening the criminal justice system’s response to these crimes.  Congress also has an opportunity to build on what we know today about intervening in and preventing violence:

  • Domestic violence homicides are often predictable and therefore preventable in many cases. The proposed legislation encourages states and local communities to screen victims for warning signs and provide immediate intervention for those at risk. 

  • Sexual assault is a pervasive and misunderstood crime. More than 20 million women in the US have been victims of rape, and less than 1 in 6 rapes are reported to the police. The proposed legislation will help improve the law enforcement response to these crimes, build strong cases that can be successfully prosecuted, and link victims with services.

  • When young people experience dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault, they need caring peers and adults who can intervene and provide support. The proposed legislation will help schools, youth organizations, and domestic violence agencies work more effectively with youth and engage young people in stopping violence before it starts.

Vice President Biden has often said that the passage of VAWA in 1994 is the legislative achievement he is most proud of from his many years in the Senate; and yet, he knew then that it was just the beginning. For all the victims today, and for future generations, VAWA represents a promise to end violence against women. Today’s bipartisan introduction of VAWA is another step towards fulfilling that promise. I commend Chairman Leahy for his leadership and Senator Crapo for his many years of commitment to ending violence against women.  Now it’s up to Congress to move quickly to pass this important legislation.

Lynn Rosenthal is the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women.

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