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Gillibrand, Meng, Survivors of Domestic Violence to Speaker Boehner: Pass Bipartisan Violence Against Women Act Now

Press Release

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Location: New York, NY

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Grace Meng, joined by advocates and survivors of domestic violence, today called on House Speaker John Boehner to pass the bipartisan, Senate-passed version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) without any further delay. VAWA was first signed into law in 1994, and expired in October 2011 for the very first time in its 17 year history. Until last year, reauthorizing the program was non-controversial and bipartisan under the Republican controlled House of Representatives, in 2000 and 2005. It has now been over 400 days since the House of Representatives has acted on passing the Senate bill to reauthorize VAWA, which was first passed on a bipartisan basis on April 26, 2012.

Earlier this week, with a bipartisan vote of 78-22, the Senate voted for a second time to reauthorize this critical program. Although many of the programs established under VAWA have continued to receive funding through a series of continuing resolutions, a full reauthorization is needed to ensure that local communities and law enforcement agencies receive the full resources they need to combat domestic violence. Without passage of this legislation, funding and grants for law enforcement to hold perpetrators accountable and for local advocacy groups to provide assistance to victims are at-risk. Seventeen Republican House colleagues have already called on House Speaker Boehner to immediately pass the VAWA bill.

In 2011, New York City police responded to nearly 258,000 domestic violence incidents, with more than 73,000 home visits by the NYPD's Domestic Violence Unit, according to the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence. Each day 600 women are raped or sexually assaulted, approximately 24 Americans every minute, while 3 women are murdered by a husband, boyfriend, or partner. Every year, more than 1,000 women are killed by domestic abusers. Since VAWA expired, more than 16 million Americans have been victimized. The law is effective. In the two decades since it was enacted, the law has helped millions of women escape their attackers and seek justice.

"There is simply no room for partisan gamesmanship when we're talking about the safety of our families," said Senator Gillibrand. "For millions of women and families, VAWA serves as a lifeline to keep them safe. Congress must finally provide victims of domestic and sexual violence with the protections and treatment they deserve."

"Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act is vital to providing and expanding crucial protections against domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking," said Representative Meng, a cosponsor of the legislation. "The Senate did the right thing for women by passing this critical measure. Now, the House must step up to the plate and follow suit."

"Congress has a moral responsibility to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which has substantially reduced domestic violence, sexual assault, and dating violence since its enactment by a bipartisan supermajority in 1994," said Representative Yvette D. Clarke. "Attempts by Republicans in the House of Representatives to eliminate protections for women who are immigrants, Native American, or members of the LGBT community are unconscionable. We cannot wait another day, month, or year to act on this measure which would protect the lives of millions across the U.S."

Senator Gillibrand wrote in a letter to Speaker Boehner, "I urge you to give an up-or-down vote to the Senate's bipartisan VAWA Reauthorization Act without any more delay… Seventeen of your Republican House colleagues have already asked you for such action by urging you to immediately reauthorize a bipartisan VAWA bill, and I strongly encourage you to heed their call… Anyone who is guilty of domestic abuse -- should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Any victim of abuse -- should be empowered to speak out, and have access to help and support. Reauthorization of VAWA sends a clear message that violence against women will not be tolerated."

Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate passed the reauthorization of VAWA, which aims to expand protections for victims of violence and sexual abuse. Legislation provides law enforcement agencies and court personnel with tools to help prosecute crimes of domestic and sexual violence and equips service providers with resources on the ground to effectively advocate, counsel, and support victims of domestic violence.

Gillibrand noted that the Senate version of the bill expands VAWA, including:

New protections from discrimination and abuse for LGBT community, immigrants, and Native American women. Legislation ensures that LGBT, immigrant and Native American communities have equal access to the bill's anti-violence programs. VAWA expands services for underserved communities to assist those who have had trouble getting help in the past, ensuring that grant funds can be used to make services available for all victims regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Reducing backlog in processing rape kits. There is currently a rape kit backlog estimated at 400,000, with evidence that could link an assailant to a sexual crime. The bill would dedicate more funding to test rape kits and speed up the analysis of DNA evidence in rape cases.

Training law enforcement and judicial officers specifically on dating violence and stalking, in addition to areas of domestic violence and sexual assault, through Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors (STOP) grants. STOP grants have assisted law enforcement and prosecutors in tracking down perpetrators and bringing them to justice, saving countless lives and provided needed services to victims of these violent acts.

Requiring 20 percent of STOP grants be allocated for sexual assault-related programs. Currently, a smaller percentage of grant funding has gone to programs that address sexual violence. This measure ensures an increased focus on sexual assault prevention and enforcement.

The Senate version of the bill now awaits a vote in the House of Representatives. Unless Congress renews it, critical federal anti-violence grants are at-risk. Since VAWA first became law in 1994, annual incidence of domestic violence has dropped by more than 50 percent.

Full text of Senator Gillibrand's letter is below:

Dear Speaker Boehner:

Keeping women and families safe is a basic, commonsense principle. Since being enacted in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been a common sense bill that has always been an issue where we have been able to build consensus around -- both Democrats and Republicans alike. VAWA significantly strengthens the ability of the Federal Government, states, law enforcement and service providers to combat domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. In keeping with that rich tradition of bipartisanship on a common sense measure to combat domestic violence and sexual assault, I urge you to give an up-or-down vote to the Senate's bipartisan VAWA Reauthorization Act without any more delay. This bill expired in October of 2011, that is more than a year and a half ago, over 400 days. The Senate, in April of 2012 passed this overwhelmingly bipartisan bill. Just this week, the Senate was forced to act again. Seventeen of your Republican House colleagues have already asked you for such action by urging you to immediately reauthorize a bipartisan VAWA bill, and I strongly encourage you to heed their call.

Every day, an average of three women are murdered by an intimate partner. Every day, 600 women are raped or sexually assaulted. Millions of women and families rely on the help and support that the Violence Against Women Act provides to keep them safe. The Senate's bipartisan VAWA Reauthorization Act responds to the realities and needs reported by those who work with victims every day to make VAWA work better for all victims.

The Senate VAWA Reauthorization continues to follow the example of previous VAWA reauthorizations by increasing protections for vulnerable and underserved groups, including LGBT and immigrant victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. It ensures protection for the children of victims and strengthens protections for women brought into the country by marriage brokers, among other important improvements. The act places a greater emphasis on training for law enforcement and ensures that no victim can be denied services based on race, color, religion, age, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

The VAWA Reauthorization passed by the Senate strengthens existing programs to address the ongoing crisis of violence against women in tribal communities by narrowly expanding concurrent tribal criminal jurisdiction over those who assault Indian spouses and dating partners in Indian country, clarifying jurisdiction for civil protection orders, and strengthening Federal assault statutes. Combating violence against Native women has always been a core principle of VAWA as women in tribal communities face rates of domestic violence and sexual assault much higher than those faced by the general population.

Additionally, the Senate bill incorporates the SAFER Act, which was introduced by Senator Cornyn. This Act helps states and local governments to conduct audits of rape kits in their possession and also provides assistance to law enforcement to take key steps to reduce backlogs of rape kits under their control.

Finally, the Senate VAWA Reauthorization strengthens and streamlines crucial existing programs. The bill included authorization of appropriations for Fiscal Year 2014 to 2017 for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This Act will enhance measures to combat human trafficking by supporting international efforts to prevent cross border trafficking and improving domestic programs to identify victims and alert law enforcement, providing victims and their families with essential services, and promoting accountability to ensure that federal funds are used for their intended purposes.

The bill also incorporates new accountability provisions, patterned after those Senator Grassley added to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and other bills, but tailored to fit VAWA programs. They include strict new audit requirements, enforcement mechanisms for grantees that fail to fix problems found in the audits, restrictions on grantees' executive compensation and investments and their administrative costs -- all aimed to ensure that VAWA funds are used wisely and efficiently.

Anyone who is guilty of domestic abuse -- should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Any victim of abuse -- should be empowered to speak out, and have access to help and support. Reauthorization of VAWA sends a clear message that violence against women will not be tolerated. I urge you to honor the strong bipartisan tradition and history of this bill and pass the Senate's bipartisan reauthorization without any further delay. To do so, is a disservice to the families so deeply affected by domestic violence every day.

- QUOTES -

"Safe Horizon extends our deepest thanks to Senator Gillibrand and her colleagues in the Senate for passing an inclusive, comprehensive version of the Violence Against Women Act last week," said Ariel Zwang, CEO of Safe Horizon. "This is one of the most important issues facing Congress this year, and it is simply unimaginable that a law that for decades has prevented domestic violence and sexual assault and provided effective and immediate services to victims could be subject to partisan politics. On behalf of the 250,000 New Yorkers we help each year who have been impacted by violence, we again thank Senator Gillibrand for her leadership, and stand ready to help move this effort forward in the House of Representatives."

"Sanctuary for Families thanks Senator Gillibrand for her strong leadership on the VAWA Reauthorization Act. VAWA has played a vital role in our organization's ability to provide safety and services to more than 10,500 victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking and their children each year," said Laurel Eisner, Executive Director of Sanctuary for Families. "We urge Speaker Boehner and the House of Representatives to act quickly and vote with their Senate colleagues. This bill will save lives, rebuild families, protect children and teens, conserve taxpayer resources and prevent future crimes."

"100,000 Asian women will suffer from domestic violence in their lifetime," said Larry Lee, New York Asian Women's Center Executive Director. "VAWA funds are urgently needed to reach and assist these women to overcome the abuse, gain self-sufficiency and thrive."

"We need to let everyone know that domestic violence is not acceptable," said Katty Ng, former New York Asian Women's Center client and domestic violence survivor. "I urge House lawmakers to pass VAWA to protect all women and their children. Without this legislation and New York Asian Women's Center's critical resources, I would not be here today."

"Hope's Door applauds the Senate for their bi-partisan vote in support of VAWA and calls upon the House of Representatives to do the same, said CarlLa Horton, Executive Director of Hope's Door. "45% of the women that Hope's Door served last year had been strangled by their abusive partners, while an equal number had been sexually assaulted or coerced. There were 944 children in the families we served last year who lived with abuse on a daily basis. Across the country, 1,000 women every year die from domestic violence. The House must stand up for the safety of women and children in their own homes, end the political posturing that puts the lives of women and children at risk, and expand efforts to stop the violence and end the intergenerational cycle of abuse."

"According to the CDC, LGBT people experience violence at the same or higher rates as heterosexual people; yet 94% of services providers reported that they did not have services for LGBT survivors of violence," said Sharon Stapel, Executive Director of New York City Anti-Violence Project. "VAWA is our nation's response to domestic and sexual violence and must include all victims. By explicitly including LGBT people, we can tell those who are experiencing this violence every day that if they reach out for help, someone will be there to help them. We cannot pick and choose which victims deserve help -- VAWA must protect all. We urge the House to take up the strong, inclusive, bipartisan S. 47 and pass it immediately."


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