I rise today in support of S.47, The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, which passed the Senate with a strong, bipartisan majority. The programs funded under this landmark legislation have proven effective over the past two decades in achieving real and meaningful reductions in domestic violence.
Victims’ advocates in my district and around the country rely on the funding made available through VAWA for training programs, rape prevention and education, battered women’s shelters, support for runaways, and community programs directed at ending the cycle of domestic violence.
In my home state, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape currently operates 50 rape crisis centers that provide services to victims of sexual violence. These centers also utilize public awareness campaigns and prevention education to combat the root causes of sexual assault. Essential institutions such as this are counting on us in this body to ensure that VAWA funds remain available to support their often life saving work.
I am proud to serve as a board member of the Crime Victims Council of the Lehigh Valley. This private, non-profit organization provides free, confidential assistance to victims of violent crime and their significant others to help them cope with the traumatic aftermath of victimization. Another outstanding institution in my district is Turning Point of Lehigh Valley, which maintains a 24-hour helpline that serves as a constant resource for victims and their loved ones. Turning Point offers empowerment counseling, safe houses, court advocacy, prevention programs, and transitional assistance to ease former abuse victims into an independent life. Our community depends on these organizations, and these organizations depend on VAWA.
VAWA is also improving law enforcement’s response to domestic violence. In 2007, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency conducted an evaluation of VAWA’s Services Training for Officers and Prosecutors Program, commonly called STOP Grants. This program is designed to promote an enhanced approach to improve the criminal justice system’s handling of violent crimes against women. The final report indicated that police with STOP training are more likely to work in concert with professional victims’ advocates. Court personnel, including prosecutors and judges, are demonstrating a heightened level of sensitivity towards victims of abuse. Finally, the strategy of employing dedicated personnel to follow these crimes from beginning to end has resulted in improved arrest policies, investigations, prosecutions, hearings, and follow-up. This study demonstrates the positive effect that STOP Grants have had across the board in Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system where domestic violence is concerned.
VAWA has substantially improved our nation’s ability to combat violent crime and protect its victims, providing a strong safety net for women and children across the United States. According to the FBI, incidents of rape have dropped by nearly 20 percent from the law’s enactment in 1994 through 2011. The rate of intimate partner violence has declined by 64 percent over that same period. However, much work remains to be done. The CDC estimates that one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. Congress must reauthorize VAWA to prevent more innocent Americans from becoming victims and to provide critical services for those who do.
Further delaying this crucial legislation does this Congress no credit and leaves state and local service providers facing uncertainty about their ability to continue protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
The Senate voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with a bipartisan majority, and I would strongly encourage the House of Representatives to do the same. Voting yes on the underlying bill will move reauthorizing legislation to the President’s desk immediately. This is the right thing to do.
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