By Terry O’Neill, NOW President
According to the media, the public holds the bickering, do-nothing Congress in unprecedented low esteem. But here’s some good news: In the weeks and months ahead, there is one area where our legislators can redeem themselves. The Violence Against Women Act is up for reauthorization, and if Congress passes a strong bill, millions of girls and women will have a better chance to escape and heal from sexual, domestic, dating and stalking violence.
We only have to read the latest headlines to know that our nation must continue its work to prevent and respond to the cruel sexual violence, lethal battery and assault that lead to murder and destruction in whole families. Shockingly, three women are killed every day in domestic violence incidents.
VAWA was originally passed in 1994 and currently has the bipartisan support of almost a third of the full Senate. In a nod to harsh economic times, the money authorized has been lowered to the 2000 level, programs have been consolidated, budgets tightened and accountability emphasized.
So why have two of VAWA’s former champions failed to sponsor this year’s bill? Senators Orrin Hatch and Charles Grassley are missing in action, and we all know that sexual and domestic violence still occur all across the nation, including Utah and Iowa.
It isn’t just the shelters and crisis centers calling for full Senate support — the religious, health care and civil rights communities are behind VAWA as well. Most important, the law enforcement community joins our call to sponsor and pass VAWA, with 47 state attorneys general adding their voices, including Utah AG Mark Shurtleff and Iowa’s Tom Miller.
Unfortunately, conservatives in the Senate are attempting to drastically reduce VAWA funding through a matching funds scheme that would effectively shut down many smaller anti-violence programs and seriously impact services in larger programs. NOW cautions that this could be the first step toward eventually eliminating federal support.
As both a public health and human rights issue, ending violence against women is a responsibility we all share. If we truly want a nation free of sexual and domestic violence, we must commit to this goal at every level — as individuals, in our communities, in state legislatures and at the federal level.