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Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 -- Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COONS. Mr. President, every single American should be able to count on the law to protect them from domestic violence and sexual assault, regardless of who they are, where they live, or whom they love. That means giving law enforcement the tools they need to investigate and prosecute these crimes while investing in a community-based approach, like we have in Delaware. In reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act today, the Senate is taking an important step in the ongoing effort to rid domestic abuse from our communities and our Nation.

The Violence Against Women Act has been an unqualified success at reducing domestic violence and bringing this once-hidden crime into the light. Yet there is no question that the need for this legislation persists.

Just last month, a 26-year-old male was placed under arrest in New Castle County, DE, after assaulting his ex-girlfriend in front of her five children. The assault involved dragging the victim by her hair into the kitchen, where the violence continued. The victim's teenage son was forced to make the call to 9 1-1--another stark and horrifying example of how not all victims of domestic violence have bruises.

Like many aspects of modern law enforcement, the best strategies for fighting domestic violence and sexual assault change over time. What Congress and experts understood to be effective in 1994 may not be the best or most comprehensive approach today. That is why the original authors of this act provided for reauthorization every 5 years. Twice each decade, we must take a hard look at where we are failing and where we are succeeding in this important fight.

In this year's reauthorization, we made changes that generally fall into two categories: reducing bureaucracy and strengthening accountability to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely; and ensuring that every victim of abuse in this country is able to count on the law to protect them, regardless of who they are, where they live or whom they love.

Sometimes it takes an extra step on our part to make sure underserved communities, like those in the LGBTQ community, receive the same protection under the law as everyone else. I believe it is a step worth taking.

The reauthorization we are considering today takes that step, moving us forward by adding protections for victims of domestic violence regardless of their sexual orientation. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Americans experience domestic violence in the same percentage of relationships as the general population--a shocking 25 35 percent--yet these victims often don't have access to the same services as their straight friends and neighbors.

Nearly half of LGBTQ victims are turned away from domestic violence shelters, and a quarter are often unjustly arrested as if they were the perpetrators.

In Delaware and across this country, our law enforcement officers are doing an incredible job responding to domestic violence cases, due in part to the training they receive from VAWA programs. Providing the resources necessary to help ensure officers treat all victims equally is essential to keeping our communities safe.

Today's reauthorization makes plain that discrimination is not the policy of the United States of America. It says no program funded by Federal VAWA dollars can turn away a domestic violence victim because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

That is it. That is all this part of the bill does, and I can't believe any of my distinguished colleagues would want to let discrimination persist in the laws of this country.

Every single American should be able to count on the law to protect them from domestic violence and sexual assault. Whether the victim is gay or straight, American Indian, white, black or Latino, they deserve protection from abuse and justice for their abusers. The amendment offered by Senator Hutchison removes these key provisions and would allow the denial of VAWA assistance to victims solely because of their LGBT status.

I opposed the Hutchison amendment for this reason, and because it eliminates improvements that will help law enforcement conduct investigations of the crimes targeted by VAWA.

As cochair of the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus, I convened a roundtable discussion in New Castle, DE, earlier this year to hear from leaders across the spectrum of law enforcement, the nonprofit sector, and the judiciary.

One thing the roundtable made absolutely clear is that law enforcement agencies use VAWA funding to hold training and share information they can't get anywhere else.

Chief Jeffrey Horvath of the Lewes Police Department explained that in a small police unit such as the one he leads, marshaling the funds to provide officer training on domestic violence would be impossible without VAWA assistance.

These local experts also stressed the critical need for ongoing and continued training. MAJ Nathaniel McQueen of the Delaware State Police noted that because the research continues to evolve, trainings must be given every year.

Patricia Dailey Lewis, representing the Family Division of the Delaware Attorney General's Office, explained that VAWA provides the social workers that are critical to ushering victims through the criminal justice system. Without a social worker as a guide, the complications and frustrations of the justice system can be overwhelming--ultimately deterring victims from coming forward and pushing domestic violence back into the shadows.

VAWA funds the Victims Advocate Office in the Delaware State Police Department, which LT Teresa Williams reported has served over 6,000 Delawareans in 2 years. As that number suggests, the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence cases remains a huge concern. Chief James Hosfelt of the Dover Police Department estimated that one-third of his case files relate to incidents of domestic violence.

Once law enforcement and prosecutors have secured a court order, VAWA plays a pivotal role in reducing recidivism. As Leann Summa, director of Legal Affairs of the Family Court in Delaware, explained to me, VAWA funds through STOP grants provide the only method by which the Delaware Family Court can ensure that individuals comply with court orders of treatment and counseling. For victims, VAWA also provides the support groups that reach those who might otherwise fall back into dangerous conditions. Maria Matos, executive director of the Latin American Community Center, explained to me that, while members of the Latino community do not often join in support groups, VAWA has helped create one that has worked successfully in Delaware.

So if we are to tackle a problem this large, this pervasive, and this dangerous, we need well-trained, dedicated law enforcement officers but we also need support from a whole community providing a broad range of services. And in Delaware, that is exactly what we have. VAWA has fostered a community of those dedicated to reducing violence, allowing each group to serve as a force multiplier for others and adding value that individual programs alone would not create.

Another participant in our roundtable, Bridget Poulle, executive director of the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, told me that even though the council she represented receives no VAWA funds, that, ``VAWA has allowed all systems to work at a higher level.''

Tim Brandau, executive director of CHILD, Inc., agreed that it is the broad community created by VAWA that is most important to sustain. Commissioner Carl Danberg of the Department of Corrections, who also joined us at the roundtable, reminded us how, in the early days of addressing domestic violence, the typical response was to ``lock them both up,'' revictimizing the innocent party. What seemed an appropriate or sufficient response at one time sounds appalling to our ears today--reinforcing the need to reevaluate these programs regularly.

VAWA makes the whole system better by bringing together the necessary pieces of a fully functioning justice system. At the roundtable, Patricia Dailey Lewis, representing the Family Division of the Delaware Attorney General's Office, explained that VAWA provides the social workers that are critical to ushering victims through the criminal justice system. Without a social worker as a guide, the complications and frustrations of the justice system can be overwhelming--ultimately deterring victims from coming forward and pushing domestic violence back into the shadows.

The breadth of the VAWA community is key to its success. This was emphasized at the roundtable by Carol Post, executive director of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and by Deanee Moran, Director of the Sexual Assault Network of Delaware. They reported how VAWA touches everything from transitional housing to the national hotline, from the safe exchange of children to increased awareness on college campuses; from STOP grants in rural neighborhoods to SASP funding in urban communities. Not only for women, but also for men, and for children.

My colleagues who opposed this reauthorization were willing to put all of this progress at risk. Their insistence on excluding some of our friends and neighbors because of their background or sexual orientation is unconscionable.

I am proud to represent a State that has taken a leadership role in the fight against domestic violence, and I thank Joe Biden, the former Senator from Delaware, for his leadership in advancing the first VAWA statute.

It is my pleasure, honor, and great responsibility to do all that I can to secure VAWA reauthorization this year--the safety of our communities depends on it.

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