Amid an ongoing national debate on protecting families from domestic violence and sexual assault, Senator Jay Rockefeller today gathered with advocates, survivors and law enforcement officials from around the state to discuss the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.
This week, the Senate has been debating reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which first became law in 1994 with legislation Rockefeller co-sponsored. It was the first major federal initiative to combat domestic violence and related crimes. West Virginia last year received $3.9 million for use by local law enforcement agencies and victims' service organizations. Many of those working under programs funded by VAWA joined with domestic violence survivors and Rockefeller at today's roundtable.
"We absolutely need to make sure that women and their families are protected from domestic violence and sexual assault, and feel safe in their own homes and communities," Rockefeller said. "Failing to fully reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act is a failure to protect West Virginia families. With us today is a group of amazing advocates, survivors and law enforcement officials who work on the frontlines
of the battle for our families. They must have our full support."
The Violence Against Women Act addresses domestic violence, sexual assault, and other crimes through formula and competitive grants to state, local and tribal governments; non-profit organizations; and colleges and universities.
VAWA expired in 2011 and has yet to be reauthorized by Congress. Rockefeller was an original cosponsor of the VAWA bill that became law in 1994, a co-sponsor of successful reauthorizations of the law in 2000 and 2005, and co-sponsored it again last year. Despite successful passage in the Senate last Congress, the Senate's strong VAWA reauthorization was effectively blocked by the Republican-led House of Representatives. Rockefeller is co-sponsor of the new 2013 reauthorization as well.
"The Violence Against Women Act is monumental legislation that provides critical services to women and children experiencing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking," said Tonia Thomas with the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "Because of VAWA, thousands of West Virginia victims have received lifesaving services and support."
More than 1,300 West Virginians--including more than 500 children--are housed in one of 14 in-state domestic violence shelters that serve all 55 counties. Without a reauthorization, Congress cannot make important improvements to VAWA programs to ensure that they best meet the needs of our communities.
"In times of fear and torment, it makes a difference to have an advocate from a local domestic violence program help maneuver through the confusion and pain -- VAWA provides resources for that to happen, it provides a lifeline to victims and advocates on call 24 hours a day in a time a crisis and uncertainty," Thomas said.
Throughout his public service career, Rockefeller has advocated on numerous fronts for victims of domestic violence:
As Governor, in 1979, signed legislation that, for the first time, gave domestic violence victims in West Virginia the right to receive protective orders in civil courts, affording them new protections by the justice system;
Was an original cosponsor of the Violence Against Women Act of 1993, which passed the following year as part of broader crime legislation;
Co-sponsored VAWA's reauthorization in 2000, 2005, 2011 and 2013;
Each year writes colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee, urging their continued support for federal funding for VAWA programs.
"Everyone deserves to feel safe and secure, and for so many domestic violence survivors, local programs to combat such horrendous abuses and provide support are a lifeboat," Rockefeller said. "I will do everything I can to make sure West Virginia's programs remain available to women in need."
The Senate is currently debating VAWA, and a vote on final passage is expected next week.