Anti-violence act merits approval


A statement from Sen. Mark Pryor’s office Thursday brought a timely call to constituents to support the Violence Against Women Act, which could come to a vote in the Senate as early as this week.

The legislation before Congress this year would be a 5-year extension of the 1994 act that sought to protect and support the victims of domestic violence. The Act lapsed after 18 years when the the last Congress adjourned without reauthorizing it.

VAWA was originally part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, according to the Department of Justice. It was designed “to end violence against women through criminal penalties, federal grant programs, and research and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.”

Since the passage of VAWA in 1994, the rate of violence against women has declined by more than 50 percent, according the DOJ; still, one woman in four will be the victim of domestic violence.

In 2012, an effort to reauthorize VAWA failed in part because it included legislation to increase the number of visas issued to immigrant victims of domestic abuse. That component is gone from the current bill, according to Roll Call.

The Senate passed the 2012 bill, but the House gutted it, and there was no effort at reconciling the two versions. The current legislation retains the 2012 version’s stronger protections for gay and lesbian victims and its authorization for tribal courts to prosecute citizens who abuse American Indians. American Indians are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse as other Americans.

On Thursday, Roll Call reported that staff from the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said on Twitter the senator had secured the 60 votes needed to prevent the threat of a filibuster in the Senate. Like the act’s original sponsors, Sen. Leahy’s group is bipartisan and includes Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

On the 15th anniversary of the passage of VAWA, Attorney General Eric Holder noted: “The Violence Against Women Act forever changed the way this nation meets our responsibility to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. It has been an essential building block in the Justice Department’s work to end violence against women.”

How necessary is VAWA today, given the advances already made? Consider these DOJ statistics: One in five young women will be a victim of sexual assault while she is in college. One in nine teenage girls will be raped. One in 10 teens will be hurt on purpose by a dating partner.

Protecting children is a key mission of the federal Office on Violence against Women, which administers VAWA. It supports those children exposed to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking with “child-centered prevention and intervention projects.”

Our thanks to Sen. Pryor for being a leader in the fight to get this important legislation to protect children and women passed. He was a co-sponsor of the 2012 version of the reauthorization and last week signed up to support this year’s version.

About this year’s legislation he says: “In addition to giving law enforcement the tools they need to protect women, this bill will provide coordinated, community-based services and housing protection for victims. Even better, VAWA will increase government accountability so we can ensure our federal funds are helping those who need it most.”

We echo the admonition in his statement to spread the word and encourage members of the Senate and House to support the act.

Sen. John Boozman, Rep. Steve Womack and Rep. Tom Cotton, please join this important bipartisan effort.

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Editor’s note: This editorial was reprinted courtesy of the Southwest Times Record at Fort Smith.