President Barack Obama today signed legislation re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) into law. U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse co-sponsored the legislation and successfully worked to include a new provision to prevent teen dating violence in the law.
"This law has saved women's lives," said Whitehouse. "Today's action will strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence and give law enforcement in Rhode Island and across the nation important tools they need to prosecute abusers. I'm also proud that it includes my legislation to help kids who are tragically exposed to domestic violence."
The Violence Against Women Act funds law enforcement efforts as well as educational and community programs to prevent domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and to provide assistance to victims. In addition to the Whitehouse teen dating violence provisions, the reauthorization bill makes several updates to the law, including an expanded focus on sexual assault; new tools to identify and manage high-risk offenders and prevent domestic violence homicides; more robust housing protections for victims; and new measures to promote accountability in the use of VAWA funds.
In 2011, Whitehouse chaired a Judiciary subcommittee field hearing in Rhode Island to examine the problem of teen dating violence. His SMART Prevention Act, which was introduced after the hearing and is included in the new VAWA law, would establish a new grant program for domestic violence education, with a focus on children exposed to violence in the home, and on students in middle school. The bill will also support programs to train youth mentors.
"The SMART Prevention Act will sustain the work we have started in Rhode Island to provide schools with the educational programming so students and parents can recognize the signs of teen dating violence but also act to be proactive and prevent this serious issue," said Ann Burke, who testified at Whitehouse's hearing and serves as President of the Lindsay Ann Burke Memorial Foundation. "By successfully getting this teen dating violence prevention program into the larger Violence Against Women Act, Senator Whitehouse will affect the lives of teens and adults for years to come."
"Senator Whitehouse's leadership on violence against women has been steadfast throughout his years in public service, and his commitment to reauthorizing this important legislation is commendable," said Deborah DeBare, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "We are so proud that Senator Whitehouse takes these issues so seriously and is willing to champion them in the Senate."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 10 percent of students across the country have reported being physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year.
"We at Day One are thrilled with President Obama's signing of the landmark Violence Against Women Act," said Peg Langhammer, Executive Director of Day One in Providence. "We are proud of Senator Whitehouse and the entire RI delegation who fought so long and so hard to ensure a version of VAWA that protects all victims. The reauthorization of VAWA will ensure that thousands of Rhode Island victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking continue to receive critical services and that law enforcement has the tools to hold offenders accountable."
"Sojourner House commends Senator Whitehouse and all of Rhode Island's congressional representation in supporting the re-authorization of VAWA," said Vanessa Volz, Executive Director of Sojourner House in Providence. "This critical piece of legislation will allow our agency -- and others like us -- to continue providing life-saving services to survivors of domestic violence, including emergency shelter, transitional housing, counseling, teen dating violence education for youth, and advocacy for hotline callers. As we continue to work with our community and clients, we are grateful for federal legislation that mirrors our belief that there should be no tolerance for abuse."
The SMART Prevention Act was supported by the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Futures Without Violence, Jewish Women International, Men Can Stop Rape, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the National Center for Victims of Crime, and the Love is Not Abuse Coalition.