Rates of domestic and sexual violence in the United States have amounted to a crisis that must be urgently addressed. Nearly one in five women has been raped in her lifetime, while one in four women has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
These devastating figures require a strong response ó and the immediate reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is an important first step.
S. 1925 is a strong, bipartisan, filibuster-proof bill that will reauthorize VAWA for another five years and build on effective programs to meet the changing needs of victims. This legislation, introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), has 61 co-sponsors, including eight Republicans. Senate leadership is bringing VAWA to the floor this week, demonstrating Congressí commitment to ending violence against women and girls.
But many well-intentioned Members of Congress have heard misstatements about VAWA, and opponents are developing an alternative bill that will undercut the spirit of the law. It is imperative that we address these inaccuracies so every Senator understands what VAWA really does in communities across the country and so every Senator can support S. 1925 without harmful amendments.
VAWA saves lives and money ó $12.6 billion in its first six years alone. VAWA-funded programs have improved the national response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. The lionís share of VAWA funding, about $400 million annually, ends up in local communities supporting law enforcement, prosecution, courts and victim services. Since its passage in 1994, all states have strengthened rape laws and the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased by 34 percent for women and 57 percent for men.
Critics allege that VAWA grantees misspent millions of dollars and S. 1925 lacks strict accounting policies. But a letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich explains that concerns about the grants in question have been successfully resolved.
Advocacy groups and victim service providers support the billís audit provisions, which are almost word for word the accountability provisions developed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in the Victims of Trafficking Act.
Critics claim the Leahy-Crapo bill gives immigrants a new way to enter the country. However, provisions to protect immigrant victims have been in place since 1994. Any immigrant victim seeking a U visa under VAWA not only must provide evidence of victimization but also must obtain a signed form from a law enforcement officer or prosecutor certifying that the immigrant victim cooperated with officials and assisted in bringing the perpetrator to justice.
Critics claim S. 1925 contains provisions that would force all domestic violence and sexual assault programs to serve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims or be charged with discrimination. In reality, S. 1925 has a provision that tells states they may fund services specifically targeted to LGBT victims. These targeted services are badly needed. Only 1.5 percent of all victim services in this country are LGBT-specific, and a majority of victim service providers working with LGBT clients report that their clients have been denied services because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.