Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the lead author of the Senate's Violence Against Women Act, sent a bipartisan letter with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) Tuesday to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), urging him to bring up the Senate-passed Violence Against Women Act. This landmark law has been at the foundation of the nation's response to domestic and sexual violence since 1994, and the Senate's bipartisan reauthorization measure is based on months of work with survivors, advocates, and law enforcement officers from all across the country.
While the House passed its own version of the legislation last month, that measure did not include key provisions to meet the needs of all victims of domestic and sexual violence. To ensure that victims' needs do not go unanswered, Leahy and Murkowski called upon the House to take up the Senate's bipartisan VAWA bill.
"Saving the lives of victims of domestic violence should be above politics. Yet politics seem to have gotten in the way of House passage of the bipartisan Senate Violence Against Women (VAWA) Reauthorization Act," Leahy and Murkowski wrote to Boehner. "We cannot afford to let another day go by. We urge you to swiftly allow for an up-or-down vote in the House on the Senate's bipartisan VAWA Reauthorization Act."
The Senate bill, of which Leahy is the lead author and Murkowski a cosponsor, was approved April 26 on a 68-31 vote. The legislation had the support of 15 Republican Senators, and is endorsed by more than 1,000 national, state and local organizations, from law enforcement to religious organizations, victim advocates to health professionals.
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act would further strengthen and improve programs authorized under the landmark law to assist victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The reauthorization bill includes an increased focus on sexual assault, including the addition of new purpose areas to support the efforts of sexual assault coalitions working in the states and provisions to help reduce rape kit backlogs.
The text of the Leahy-Murkowski letter is available below.
June 12, 2012
The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker of the
House of Representatives
H-232 U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Mr. Speaker:
Saving the lives of victims of domestic violence should be above politics. Yet politics seem to have gotten in the way of House passage of the bipartisan Senate Violence Against Women (VAWA) Reauthorization Act, a bill to strengthen law enforcement's response to domestic violence that cleared the Senate on April 26th with a strong bipartisan vote. In the time since the Senate passed its bill, over 1.5 million Americans have become victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. We cannot afford to let another day go by. We urge you to swiftly allow for an up-or-down vote in the House on the Senate's bipartisan VAWA Reauthorization Act.
Since being enacted in 1994, VAWA has developed a long track record of protecting women and reducing the incidence of domestic violence by providing critical support to law enforcement and services for victims. Each previous reauthorization substantially improved the way VAWA addressed the changing needs of domestic violence victims by addressing challenges facing older victims, victims with disabilities, and other underserved groups. The Senate's bipartisan VAWA
Reauthorization Act continues this tradition by placing greater emphasis on training for law enforcement and forensic response to sexual assault, and by strengthening protections for all victims regardless of where they live, their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. These changes were included at the recommendation of professionals from all over the country who work with victims every day.
We should not let politics pick and choose which victims of abuse to help and which to ignore.
However, this fundamental principle is not reflected in the House version of VAWA
reauthorization legislation, which disregarded the input from professionals and would eliminate
Senate language that ensures universal protection for LGBT victims who currently face obstacles to accessing VAWA's life-saving services, make it more difficult for local law enforcement to help immigrant victims of domestic violence, and fails to match the Senate's effort to address the epidemic of domestic violence on tribal lands.
Although significant progress has been made, domestic violence and sexual assault remain serious challenges. Every day, abusive partners kill three women, and for every victim killed there are rune more who narrowly escape. It would be unacceptable to step away from our commitment to stopping violence and abuse, and from seeking justice for victims, by undermining VAWA's protections.
The delay of the VAWA Reauthorization Act has real consequences for these and future victims, and should not be allowed to continue. VAWA was enacted and reauthorized with broad bipartisan support, and this year's reauthorization is endorsed by over 500 state and local organizations, and 47 attorneys general. We are concerned that unnecessary political and procedural posturing is breaking the bipartisan consensus on an issue that should rise above such considerations, and is creating an unconscionable delay that further threatens victims of violence.
We urge you to honor VAWA's bipartisan history and affirm the House's commitment to combating domestic violence by having an up or down vote on the Senate's VAWA Reauthorization Act.