BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, as we speak, the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault's 24-hour hotline that allows folks to seek assistance--their numbers are ringing. This evening, 363 Alaskans will spend the night in an emergency domestic violence shelter or in transitional housing provided by an Alaskan domestic violence program, programs such as the Lee Shore Center in Kenai, the Safe Shelter in Dillingham, the WISH shelter in Ketchikan, and the AWAIC shelter in Anchorage. The number of Alaskans seeking shelter is rising on the order of over 5 percent per year. These programs and the Alaskans who benefit from them are all supported by the Violence Against Women Act.
As we debate and deliberate on the reauthorization of VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, we express our respect for the volunteers and the professionals who support and who constantly advocate on behalf of these victims. These are Alaskans such as Peggy Brown and Katie TePas, who lead the effort across my State, and others like them throughout Alaskan communities. It is important that as we again reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, we do so as a tangible display of our support for their very important work.
Let me share some statistics with you, as others have shared from their respective States. In Alaska, somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of all domestic violence assaults are witnessed by children. On a national scale, more than 90 percent of abusers are people whom children know, love, and trust.
I come to the floor today to express my support for the Leahy bill, S. 1925. I have proudly cosponsored this effort and came on very early in the effort. It is the product of literally thousands of hours of work by domestic violence advocates and dedicated Senate staff members. I do believe it represents a real improvement in the services that are offered to victims even in a difficult budget environment. I would like to give a few illustrations.
Back in 2010, there were more than 800 Alaskans who sought pro bono legal assistance from the Alaska Legal Services Corporation and the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. A little over 500 of these victims could be served. Another 300 had to be turned away due to the lack of resources--turning people away who are victims because we don't have the resources to provide the help. This bill establishes a new pro bono legal program within VAWA to ensure that victims of domestic violence have access to lawyers.
Back in 2011, 12 percent of Alaska high school students reported they were hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or their girlfriend, and 9 percent reported they had been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want it. This bill focuses resources on the protection of our young people--and rightfully so--because 70 percent of all reported sexual crimes in the United States involve children. This legislation devotes needed resources to protect our children, and it also devotes increasing resources to protect our elders, who are increasingly victims of sexual assault and domestic violence--again, a side that most people don't want to acknowledge or talk about, but our statistics cannot be denied.
In addition, S. 1925 sends a strong message to offenders that they will be held accountable. In the remote Native villages of Alaska, where the victims of domestic violence literally have no place to hide, reauthorization of VAWA will mean there will be more funds to hire village public safety officers who are first responders in the last frontier.
I would like to express my appreciation to the Judiciary Committee for including a provision I have requested concerning the Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission. The Rural Justice Commission is a joint Federal, State, and tribal planning body that was created by the late Senator Ted Stevens back in 2004 to coordinate the public safety efforts in our remote rural villages. It is in danger of shutting its doors at this point in time, and the legislation before us establishes the framework for the Rural Justice Commission to continue its very important work.
Last weekend there was a great deal of concern that arose particularly amongst Alaska tribes that the version of S. 1925 that came out of the Judiciary Committee diminished the ability of the Alaska tribes to issue domestic violence protection orders that would enjoy full faith and credit from the State of Alaska. The concern we had was the result of an inadvertent technical drafting error that expanded certain tribal powers within Indian Country, but it appeared to repeal other existing tribal powers that are currently held by Alaska tribes. Our State has very little Indian Country. We do not have reservations, with the small exception of one reservation down in southeastern Alaska. So for the past couple days, I have been working, along with Senator Begich, to address this issue and have worked on a technical correction to address the concern in a way that ensures that Alaska tribes lose none of the jurisdiction or the authority they presently have to issue and to enforce their domestic violence protection orders.
It was just this morning that I received a copy of a letter from Ed Thomas, who is president of the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Tribes of the State, and he has come out clearly endorsing the amendment.
I would note that Senator Leahy has included these technical corrections in the substitute amendment he intends to bring forward, and I would certainly urge that it be adopted.
As my colleague from Idaho just mentioned, there is a divergence of views within this Chamber on what the reauthorization of VAWA should say. It is important to point out that we are in agreement on the vast majority--well over 80 percent--of the provisions in S. 1925. The disagreement is in a few smaller areas. There are Senators whose ideas were not incorporated in the Leahy bill and who wish to be heard, and I think it is appropriate that they be heard.
Again, I would concur with my colleague, the Senator from Idaho, in stating that when the Violence Against Women Act was first initiated back in 1994, it was a bipartisan effort. It was a collaborative effort. The effort this year with the reauthorization should be no less. I have every confidence that this body will once again act in a bipartisan fashion to reauthorize this very critical piece of legislation.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT