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Violence Against Women Office

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN OFFICE

    Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise to speak today to mark several important developments in our Nation's fight to end domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. First, I recently had the honor of addressing domestic violence advocates from across the country who have convened in Washington, DC, to attend the annual meeting of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. These are the women and men on the front lines, transforming the Violence Against Women Act from words on a piece of paper into real solutions for battered women and children.

    These advocates witness the terrible toll of family violence. They, in essence, know the statistics by heart. Statistics like 20 percent of all nonfatal violence against females over 12 years of age were committed by intimate partners, according to government statistics released in February 2003. Or the statistics that tell us that in 2000 alone, 1,247 women were killed by an intimate partner. These advocates experience what the studies confirm; that is, in almost half of the households with domestic violence, there are children under the age of 12.

    In the face of such daunting numbers, I was pleased to tell these advocates that our fight for an independent and separate Violence Against Women Office is over. I have been assured by Attorney General Ashcroft that his department will comply with the directive for an independent office that was in the law passed by the Congress last session. I want to make clear that my Violence Against Women Office Act and subsequent push to ensure compliance was not a fight about office space or bureaucratic in-fighting. I introduced this legislation because I know that a separate office means that the office's leadership and agenda cannot be marginalized or pushed to a back office. A separate office means that violence against women issues stay at the forefront and that its director appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate will have an office with the stature and status to use it as the bully pulpit on domestic violence issues that I intended when I authored the Violence Against Women Act.

    Nor is the independent office simply a Joe Biden issue. The Violence Against Women Office Act was voted on favorably—with no objections—in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The act passed unanimously in the Senate and passed overwhelmingly in the House. The mandate for freestanding Violence Against Women Office is Congress' law, not a whim.

    Despite the law's clear language and intent, the Department of Justice formally announced in February 2003 that it "interpreted" the new law to permit the office to remain as a part of the Office of Justice Program, the arm of the Justice Department which handles grant making, rather than implementing significant policy decisions. I vigorously protested this "interpretation," informing the Justice Department that it was inconsistent with both the plain letter of the law, as well as congressional intent. In fact, I personally called Attorney General Ashcroft on February 13 to discuss this issue and to urge him to reconsider the Department's position.

    On March 24, the Attorney General called to inform me that he had personally reviewed this issue and that he was reversing the Department's February decision. More specifically, he pledged to me that the Office would be moved outside of the Office of Justice Programs to become an independent and distinct office, as called for by the law. He also pledged that the Director of the Office would have a direct line of report to him, and not be required to report through the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, as the Department had previously required. I am grateful that Attorney General Ashcroft took the time to turn his full attention to this matter, to examine the law and legislative history, and to ensure that his Department correctly implemented the act. I commend the Attorney General for doing "the right thing" with respect to the office.

    The strength and stature of the Violence Against Women Office will be matched by the strength and stature of its director, Diane Stuart. Pursuant to the new law that requires Senate confirmation, Ms. Stuart testified before the Judiciary Committee earlier this month, and the committee will vote on her nomination on Thursday. Ms. Stuart has been acting director of the office for almost 2 years, and during that time has done terrific work. I am particularly impressed with the extraordinary outreach Ms. Stuart has done thus far, meeting with law enforcement, prosecutors, and service providers from Montgomery County, MD, to Portland, OR. She is truly an expert in the areas of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and I look forward to working with her as we fight to end family violence in our communities.

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