Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:  Amy Klobuchar
Date: Feb. 7, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, I wish to first thank the Senator from New Mexico for his great leadership on this issue. This is a national issue. It is a bipartisan issue. It crosses geographic lines. Those of us who have significant tribal communities know how important these provisions are to this bill.

We tried very hard on the Judiciary Committee to make sure this bill is consistent with the bipartisan work we have done in the past, but we also saw it as an opportunity to consolidate some of the programs to save money and then to look at areas where we needed to be more sophisticated, where we needed to respond to changing issues in the law. Certainly, the tribal jurisdiction issue was one of those major issues.

I rise today to talk about the importance of this bill. It is a law that has changed the way we think about violence against women in the United States of America. The Violence Against Women Act is one of the great legislative success stories in the criminal area in the last few decades. Since it was first passed in 1994, annual domestic violence rates have fallen by 50 percent. Now, you usually cannot say that about criminal prosecution efforts. I usually do not have that kind of number. But that is what we have--since 1994, a 50-percent difference in domestic violence rates.

People have stopped looking at the issue of domestic violence as a family issue, and they have started treating domestic violence and sexual assault as the serious crimes they are. Last year Minnesota recorded the lowest number of domestic-related deaths since 1991--down from 34 in 2011 to 18. This is in no small part due to the Violence Against Women Act. Women have more access to intervention programs, and they feel more empowered to come forward.

I know in my own county, where I was chief prosecutor for 8 years, thanks to the good work of Paul and Sheila Wellstone, and my predecessor Mike Freeman, we set up one of the most unique domestic violence service centers in the country. It has been a model for the rest of the country. Under my leadership, we also made changes to it to advance it to even higher levels. But the point is that it is a one-stop shop for the victims of domestic violence, so they can come in, see a prosecutor, see a cop, have a place for their kids to play, be able to find a shelter and a place to live, all under one roof instead of walking through the maze of the bureaucracy in the Government Center.

Both prevention and prosecution of domestic violence work were among my top priorities as a prosecutor. I know we have done good work, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in this country. Approximately one in four women has experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in her lifetime, and 45 percent of the women killed in the United States are killed by their partner. Every year close to 17,000 people still lose their lives to domestic violence. These statistics mean that sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking are still problems in America. That is why it is so important that we move quickly to take up this bill.

Just like the two prior authorizations in 2000 and 2006, this bill strengthens current law and provides solutions to problems that we have learned more about since VAWA first passed in 1994.

The Senate bill continues a tradition of bipartisan sponsorship, with 60 cosponsors, including 7 Republicans. As we know, last April the Senate approved this bill by a 68-to-31 vote. All 17 women Senators--I see my colleague Senator Murkowski here from Alaska. We thank her for her support and vote for that bill. This truly brought the women of the Senate together to stand up against domestic violence.

What does this bill do that is different from the last bill? Well, it consolidates duplicative programs and streamlines others. It provides greater flexibility for the use of grant money. It has new training requirements for people providing legal assistance to victims. As I mentioned, it takes important steps to address the disproportionately high domestic violence rates in Native American communities.

I am disappointed that we were unable to include the modest increase in U visas for immigrant victims of domestic violence. There were technical objections to including that provision. It was removed in order to improve our chances of getting this bill done once and for all. U visas are an important tool for encouraging victims to come forward. I will press to increase the number of U visas available to victims when we work on the comprehensive immigration reform bill in the spring.

One thing I wish to note about this bill is that it closes many gaps in the current system, ways to improve the current system. There was a bill I introduced with Senator Hutchison to address high-tech stalking, cases where stalkers use technology such as the Internet, video surveillance, and bugging to stalk victims. This is not something we probably would be talking about if I were standing here in 1994, but here in 2013, we know it is an issue. We have seen cases across the Nation of this kind of video surveillance and Internet bugging. In fact, we had a very high profile case involving a high profile newscaster who was willing to come forward and work with House and Senate authors on this bill. We are very pleased to have had the support from the Fraternal Order of Police, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, National Sheriffs' Association, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. They have all endorsed this bill.

This provision, the high-tech stalking provision, is included in the Violence Against Women Act, so we are very happy about that. Again, I believe our laws have to be as sophisticated as those who are breaking them. If they are using the Internet, if they are spying with video cameras through peepholes, we have to be able to respond to that.

I wanted to end by telling a story I told when we first started to consider this bill over a year ago. A year ago, over the holidays, I went to one of the saddest funerals I ever attended. It was the funeral for Shawn Schneider. He was a Lake City police officer in Minneapolis. I have since gotten to know his widow. He died responding to a domestic violence case. He went up to the door. He had received a call from the 17-year-old victim--the department had. He went up there to that door, and he got shot in the head. His bulletproof vest did not protect him. Nothing protected him. When I was sitting in that church and saw his three little children, including that little girl in her little blue dress covered in stars, I thought to myself at that moment, the victims of domestic abuse are not just one victim. It is an entire family. It is an entire community. So in their honor today, in the honor of those children, I would like us to have strong bipartisan support for the Violence Against Women Act. I believe we can do it.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record these letters from law enforcement and criminal justice organizations in support of S. 47, the Violence Against Women Act.

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