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Mr. BLUMENTHAL. I rise today to speak on an issue that is profoundly important and meaningful to this body at this moment in history. We face a critical juncture in our Nation's history, and we absolutely must renew and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act, not only for the sake of women but also our families around Connecticut and this country.
I thank my colleagues for voting to proceed to consideration of S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. VAWA is critically important. It is bipartisan legislation that gives victims of domestic violence and sexual assault access to the services they so desperately need. This crucial law supports both the organizations that provide these services and the law enforcement agencies that assist the victims as they pursue justice.
As a law enforcement official, I saw firsthand in my duties as State attorney general for Connecticut how important and practical and meaningful this law is. We have a responsibility to not only authorize but also to strengthen VAWA right away.
Some 17 years have passed since the original Violence Against Women Act. We have made great strides, but we cannot be complacent in our efforts to protect our Nation's children and women. At a time when the women of our great Nation face relentless attacks on their rights, we cannot afford to lose the ground we have gained over the last 17 years. We must address the grave concerns of domestic violence and sexual assault which are in no way partisan. As Chairman Leahy so eloquently and powerfully stated, there is nothing Republican or Democratic about a victim who suffers from this grave ill.
S. 1925 is a bipartisan bill written over months of negotiations and consultations with critical law enforcement and victims advocacy groups, and it supports a number of organizations in my home State of Connecticut with a mission to protect women who experience violence in all forms. This bill provides resources to help a number of organizations in Connecticut fulfill their vital mission to protect more than 54,000--I am going to repeat that because that is a staggering number--54,000 domestic violence victims in Connecticut alone.
Organizations in Connecticut received nearly $5 million in fiscal year 2011 from the Violence Against Women Act. But many domestic programs in Connecticut and around the country are reporting huge staff and resource shortages that are necessary to respond to the hundreds of thousands of women in need. It is truly an epidemic in this country that we must counter and fight just as we would an epidemic of infectious bacteria or other kinds of insidious sources. VAWA would give these service providers the resources they need to protect women, men, and children who are victims of domestic and sexual violence. We have the opportunity to renew and commit to end domestic violence with updates and stronger measures in this act.
I am pleased that S. 1925 builds on the accountability provisions in the current law so we can make sure VAWA grant money is used effectively and efficiently to support victims. There is a new frontier in the fight against domestic violence and sexual assault. We must strengthen provisions dealing with Internet abuse to protect women and others from those kinds of threats, intimidation, harassment, even physical assaults facilitated by the Internet. Domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking can be even more dangerous and threatening in the Internet age, requiring broader and stronger protection. We must protect the thousands of women who fall victim every year to violent crimes facilitated by cyber stalking and impersonation with consequences that are truly horrific and reprehensible.
I am proud to introduce a companion bill to the Violence Against Women Act that enhances current law for the Internet age. This legislation, the Internet Abuse Act, expands the ability of law enforcement to prosecute criminals who use the Internet to intimidate, threaten, harass, and facilitate acts of sexual violence against women, children, and others.
The VAWA proposal before us includes key concepts from the Internet Abuse Act. One of the key provisions strengthens existing criminal provisions against cyber stalking. We must take this act to the new frontier of Internet abuse and make it real against the very pernicious and reprehensible cyber stalking, cyber harassment, and cyber assault that is as much a fact of life as the older forms of domestic abuse. This provision gives law enforcement the ability to go after more real instances of criminal harassment and abuse online, and I want to stress at the same time the provision dramatically strengthens free speech protections.
Currently, the government can prosecute individuals for merely annoying online communications as well as communications that may be generally offensive but not directed at a specific person. This provision removes those authorities from the law so that prosecutors will spend their limited resources focusing on real causes of harassing and abusive conduct online.
The law also focuses on vulnerable populations. As we strengthen VAWA, we must ensure that all victims of domestic violence are protected and have access to the services they need.
Although VAWA has been strengthened and updated in every past reauthorization, the needs of some of our most vulnerable communities still have not been fully addressed. One example is elder abuse. Although the VAWA reauthorization in 2000 included provisions to deal with domestic abuse in later life, our Nation's elders continue to be victims of domestic violence. I am pleased that the provisions I drafted with my distinguished colleague, Senator Kohl, which improve the protections for elder victims of domestic abuse, have been included in this reauthorization of VAWA.
There are LGBT protections. It would simply be unconscionable to deny any victim of domestic violence the support he or she needs. For that reason, I strongly support the provisions that ensure all victims of domestic violence, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, have access to lifesaving services, and we are talking about lifesaving services.
In my experience nobody ever asked what the sexual orientation of a victim was when that person was, in fact, battered and brutalized. There is no such question that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals experience domestic violence at the same rate as the general population. Yet these individuals face discrimination as they attempt to access victims services. That should not be acceptable in this country.
In fact, the survey found 45 percent of LGBT victims were turned away when they sought help from a domestic violence shelter. Clearly, there is a real need to improve the access and availability of services for this vulnerable population, and I support measures in the act that ensure victims of domestic and sexual violence, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identification, can access the services they need.
In addition, there are broader protections for Native American communities. S. 1925 makes great improvements to the law enforcement tools available to Native American populations.
Members of the Tribal Council of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, a great tribal nation in Connecticut, have appealed to me to protect the tribal provisions in S. 1925 and to make sure any amendments are barred if they weaken those protections.
In short, all victims of domestic violence deserve access to the services they need and many of my colleagues I know agree. In fact, 61 from both sides of the aisle have signed on to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, and I thank every single one of them for stepping forward and speaking out on this profoundly meaningful and important issue. We have the opportunity to work to eliminate domestic and sexual violence, which is a scourge in our society, costly in suffering as well as dollars, and I encourage my colleagues to keep faith with the hundreds of thousands of victims who look to us for the support they need. We must vote as soon as possible--hopefully today--to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
I thank the Presiding Officer, and I yield the floor.
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