By Erika Wurst
U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert was at Mutual Ground in Aurora Thursday to speak with local victims advocates and shelter providers about the issues of domestic violence in Illinois.
The roundtable discussion was to help the Hinsdale Republican understand the needs of victims as the nation looks to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
The VAWA is the nation's primary domestic violence statute, and one close to Biggert's heart. She played an integral role in 2005 during the statute's last reauthorization, which expired in September 2011. In 2005, she said, the effort was bipartisan. This time around, no one can seem to agree.
"The VAWA proposal that passed in the House last week failed to reflect what we've learned over the last five years in terms of keeping our victims safe," Biggert said Thursday.
Biggert voted against that proposed GOP bill, saying that it failed to address important issues. She hopes that her provisions will be added to the final bill, which is on its way to be negotiated with the Senate. The Senate passed its own bill in April.
Biggert said that she will send a letter to the conference committee informing them about the needs of shelters and victims in hopes to gain their support.
"Today's discussion is about moving forward together to get a bill that works for our community," she told the roundtable members, who included victims' advocates from the Guardian Angel Services in Joliet, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Mutual Ground.
Brandon Jones, of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said he was proud of Biggert for taking a stand and voting against the Republican House bill. "Doing something against your party is difficult," he said of her decision.
Biggert said she felt it is important for everyone to be included in the statute, not just women.
Last week, after her amendment to the bill was rejected, Biggert gave her remarks to the Speaker of the House.
She explained how for months she had been meeting with advocates in her district, and "they strongly support provisions that would clarify equal treatment for LGBT individuals, bolster enforcement on Native American reservations, and to ensure victims aren't deported simply for reporting domestic abuse," she said.
"...Our victim service providers on the front lines just want to know that they can help anyone who comes through the door."
Mutual Ground Executive Director Michelle Meyer said no one is immune to domestic violence or sexual assault, and no one should be left out of the statute.
Meyer applauded Biggert for taking the time to understand victims' needs.
"I love the fact that you came out here and reached out to find out what our needs are. We don't get that enough," she said.