U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), co-chair of the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus, has cosponsored a bill to reauthorize and enhance the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which came up for consideration at an executive business meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. VAWA has enhanced law enforcement's ability to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women since its original passage in 1994.
"Domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are evils that thrive in darkness," Senator Coons said Thursday. "Every five years, Congress revisits VAWA to update the law with what we've learned about how best to stop violence against women, and this year, we'll make what I think are some important updates. Among them, this reauthorization increases funding for sexual assault programs and expands the authority of tribes to prosecute domestic violence. It takes the important step of explicitly preventing grant recipients from discriminating against victims who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and modifies the U Visa program to make it easier for law enforcement to gain the cooperation of victims in prosecuting dangerous perpetrators. The bill also wisely consolidates redundant programs and re-focuses program investments, allowing VAWA to have just as significant an impact with a nearly 20-percent reduction in authorization levels."
S.1925 would improve existing programs to address evolving needs in the fight against domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The legislation provides law enforcement agencies, court personnel, and victim-service providers with tools to help prevent domestic violence homicides by supporting training for those on the front lines of efforts to eliminate domestic violence. Importantly, the legislation also promotes accountability to ensure that federal funds are used for their intended purposes, and consolidates programs and reduces authorization levels to address fiscal concerns while focusing on the programs that have been the most successful.
"When I served as New Castle County Executive, I saw first-hand how important VAWA is to the training of local law enforcement officers," Senator Coons said. "In drafting the first version of this bill nearly twenty years ago, Joe Biden revolutionized the way law enforcement confronts domestic violence. Since then it has made an important difference in the safety of our communities, and I'm proud to cosponsor its reauthorization. "
VAWA was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994, and has since been reauthorized twice: in 2000 and 2005. The law's current authorization, however, expired in September 2011. Programs supported by VAWA have provided victims with critical services such as transitional housing, legal assistance, and supervised visitation services. VAWA has also encouraged communities to coordinate their responses to domestic and sexual violence by bringing together victim advocates, law enforcement, the courts, health care professionals and leaders within faith communities.
The legislation was sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). In a common and expected procedural move, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee today "held over" the bill until next week's Judiciary Committee executive business meeting, where it is expected to pass. It is expected to come up for a vote of the full Senate later this year.