U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman today voted to approve legislation that reauthorizes grants to fight domestic violence.
"The Violence Against Women Act has done a lot to reduce domestic violence in our country. I am glad the Senate has acted to ensure this important law is extended," Bingaman said.
The VAWA bill reauthorizes the following programs designed to keep women and families safe from domestic violence:
STOP Grant Program. VAWA's primary grant program seeks to improve the criminal justice system's response to violent crimes against women. It encourages development of effective law enforcement and prosecution strategies in cases involving violent crimes against women.
Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforce Protection Orders Grant Program (Arrest). This critical program has successfully led to the creation of criminal rape statutes in every state by encouraging state and local law enforcement officials and court officers to treat domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking as serious criminal acts.
Transitional Housing Assistance Grant Program. Provides transitional housing services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault with a focus toward permanent housing.
Legal Assistance for Victims Grant Program. Provides legal assistance to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Youth Prevention Grant Program. Funds programs designed to respond to the needs of youth who are victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
The bill also:
Increases Focus on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. The reporting, prosecution and conviction rates for sexual assault are among the lowest for any violent crime. This reauthorization places greater emphasis on training for law enforcement and forensic response to sexual assault in order to build cases that result in conviction. Modifications to the STOP and Arrest Grant programs will allow grant funding to be used in ways that are more directly responsive to the needs of sexual assault victims. For example, updates will help law enforcement to better respond to victims of sexual assault through improved training and creation of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner programs, Forensic Examiner programs and Sexual Assault Response Teams. These modifications will help reduce the estimated 180,000 and 400,000 rape kits nationwide that remain untested.
Provides Uniform Non-Discrimination Protection For All Victims. Currently, there are significant differences in the level of anti-discrimination protections among VAWA programs due to the various statutes under which the grants were authorized. This reauthorization creates uniformity so that a grantee may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.
Protects Native American Women From Domestic Violence And Sexual Assault. For Native American women, the rate of domestic violence and sexual assault far exceeds the national average. Currently, prosecution of non-Indian offenders is left to federal law enforcement who may be hours away and lack the capacity to address domestic violence. As a result non-Indian offenders largely go unpunished. This reauthorization provides tribes special domestic-violence criminal jurisdiction to hold non-Indian offenders accountable in very limited circumstances. It grants concurrent jurisdiction to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence persons who assault Indian spouses, intimate partners, or dating partners, or who violate protection orders, in Indian country. It also clarifies the intent of current law, namely that tribal courts have full civil jurisdiction to issue and enforce certain protection orders involving any persons, Indian or non-Indian.
Supports Law Enforcement's Calls for U-Visa Flexibility to Help Victims of Violence. The U-Visa is a valuable law enforcement tool in the prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes involving immigrants whose noncitizen status makes them particularly vulnerable. Reauthorization does not increase the 10,000 annual allotment. Instead, in order to address law enforcement's unmet need for these visas it allows officials to draw up to 5,000 additional visas annually from a pool of previously authorized but unissued visas.
Reduces Bureaucracy and Wasteful Spending. This reauthorization consolidates 13 programs into only four by reducing bureaucratic duplication saving $135 million a year and $682.5 million over the 5-year authorization period. Click here for a list of consolidated programs.
Implements New Accountability Measures To Ensure Federal Dollars Are Properly Spent. This reauthorization authorizes the Department of Justice's Inspector General to audit VAWA grantees for instances of waste, fraud and abuse. It provides the Inspector General with flexibility in addressing programing problems, but imposes stiff penalties on grantees that refuse to address those problems. It also supports new monitoring efforts implemented by the Office on Violence Against Women.
The House of Representatives has not yet passed a version of this bill.