Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I am honored to be an original cosponsor of the bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Let me thank the two leaders of that important bill, Senators LEAHY and CRAPO, for their work to ensure that the Senate makes renewing this important law a high priority early in this Congress.
I also wish to acknowledge the work of the many advocates who have delivered so strongly the message to Congress and to the public that we must do more to prevent violence from occurring in our homes and in our communities. Our law enforcement officers, counselors, social workers, health care professionals, public educators, and community service providers are truly on the front lines of the effort to help those who are the victims of violence and to help prevent violence from occurring in the first place. Their advocacy on behalf of these victims has helped to make this bill a priority. I commend them all for the work they are doing each and every day.
In my home State of Maine, we are fortunate to have a very low crime rate, but law enforcement officials tell me that the two greatest areas of concern are domestic violence and drugs. Often, these two go hand in hand. In fact, a 2011 study by the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service found that 65 percent of victims of crime in Maine believe the offender was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.
Over the last decade, occurrences of domestic violence have resulted in nearly half of all homicides in my State. Nearly half are the result of incidents of domestic violence.
According to statistics from the Maine Department of Public Safety, there were 5,360 reported domestic assaults in the year 2011, which is nearly a 5-percent increase from the previous year. This equates to one domestic assault every 1 hour and 38 minutes, and this is in a State with a very low crime rate.
Nationally, one in four women and one in seven men experience severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner.
In addition, Maine's 10-year average is 364 rapes per year. Think about that. That is almost one rape per day in a State with a very low crime rate. Those are only the reported crimes. I suspect the actual number is even higher. According to the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, an estimated 13,000 Mainers will experience some form of sexual violence this year alone. Currently, rape has the lowest reporting, arrest, and prosecution rate of all violent crimes in the United States.
So I am very pleased that this year's reauthorization bill also includes the provisions of the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry--or SAFER--Act, which was authored by our colleague, Senator John Cornyn. I commend the Senator for his leadership in that area, and I am pleased to be a cosponsor of his bill, which unanimously passed in the last Congress in the Senate and has been incorporated into the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. This bipartisan bill, the SAFER Act, would authorize the Attorney General to award grants to State and local governments to audit and reduce the backlog of untested rape kits.
Mr. President, I think you will share my shock and alarm at the number of these kits which are sitting in the possession of law enforcement agencies and which could contain DNA evidence that would lead to prosecutions and help get rapists off the streets and yet have not been analyzed. The estimate is that between 300,000 and 400,000 of these kits are just sitting in the possession of law enforcement agencies but have not been analyzed. That is totally unacceptable.
The reauthorization bill we introduced last week would help ensure that Maine and every other State has the necessary resources to support victims of violence and, whenever possible, to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.
Elizabeth Saxl, the executive director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, recently wrote to me in support of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. She noted this in her letter:
By reauthorizing and making significant improvements to these important programs, this legislation will help fulfill the critical unmet needs of victims of violence and expand protections to currently under-protected populations.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that her letter be printed in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks.
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Ms. COLLINS. The Violence Against Women Act has made a significant difference in combating domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, through grants to State and local governments and nonprofit organizations. Since it was first passed in 1994, the programs authorized under this law have provided State and local partners with more than $4.7 billion of assistance. This assistance helps to ensure that the victims of violence get the help they need to recover and has prevented incalculable suffering by stopping violent crimes before they happen.
It is extremely important to pass this legislation because all men and women--and men are victims as well as women. In some ways, the name of this law should be changed. But all women and men, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability deserve to be safe and protected from physical violence, and that is what this reauthorization would help to do.
Finally, this is not and never should be a partisan issue. Violence and domestic assaults do not discriminate between Republicans and Democrats, Independents and Greens, or people who are not politically active at all.
This is an equal opportunity crime that harms people regardless of their political affiliation, their profession, their location, or their status in life. It is an issue that deserves bipartisan support. I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will come together and pass this important bill.
I recognize there may be some provisions of this bill which are controversial; but, surely, we can come together in support of the goal of this vital legislation. We can work out differences if not on the Senate floor then in conference with the House; but, surely, we can come together and reauthorize this law that has made such a difference to so many in our country.
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