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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC




S. 1197. A bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I am pleased to announce today the introduction of the Biden/Hatch/Specter Violence Against Women Act of 2005. Many in this chamber are well aware that I consider the Violence Against Women Act the single most significant legislation that I've crafted during my 32-year tenure in the Senate. This law is my baby, so to speak, and I take very seriously my responsibilities to ensure that it is adequately funded and renewed. What was once an infant statute seeking legitimacy in the public eye and in the halls of government is now a feisty ten-year law that has made its presence known from Long Beach, CA to Dover, DE. But in September 2005, the Act will expire. Congress and the President must act quickly in the next three months to renew the backbone of our country's fight to end domestic violence and sexual assault, the Violence Against Women Act. We simply cannot let the Act lapse or become buried in partisan bickering.

The enactment of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 was the beginning of a national and historic commitment to women and children victimized by domestic violence and sexual assault. Thus far, our commitment has yielded extraordinary progress. Since the Act's passage, domestic violence has dropped by almost 50 percent. Incidents of rape are down by 60 percent. The number of women killed by an abusive husband or boyfriend is down by 22 percent. More than half of all rape victims are stepping forward to report the crime. Over a million women have found justice in our courtrooms and obtained domestic violence protective orders.

The Violence Against Women Act provides critical resources so that our communities may implement big and small improvements that can make all the difference in the world. For instance, in my home State of Delaware, the Act's rural grant program helped the Delaware State Police establish fully-equipped, dedicated domestic violence units in two counties. The STOP program provided a Hispanic shelter with funding to purchase a van to pick up battered women and their children who have nowhere else to turn.

Today, we uphold our commitment to America's families. Despite the incredible strides made, far too many women remain afraid to go home or afraid to tell anyone about the rape that happened at last night's party. We cannot let the Violence Against Women Act become a victim of its own success. Instead, we need to usher the Act into the 21st century and implement it with the next generation--recent police academy graduates who want to be trained on handling family violence, newly elected State legislators who want to update State laws on sexual assault, and the next generation of children who must be taught that abuse will not be tolerated.

Today's achievement--introduction of a bipartisan, compromise bill that both reinvigorates existing programs and creates bold initiatives to tackle new issues--has been a year in the making. As I drafted this next iteration of the Violence Against Women Act, I listened closely to the recommendations of those on the front lines to end the violence--police, emergency room nurses, victim advocates, shelter directors, and prosecutors--and made targeted improvements to existing grant programs and tightened up criminal laws. A wide variety of groups worked hard with Senator SPECTER, Senator HATCH and I to create this bill, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Family Violence Prevention Fund, Legal Momentum, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the National Center for Victims for Crime, the American Bar Association, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Council on Family and Juvenile Court Judges, the National Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriffs' Association and many others.

Before previewing the particulars of today's bill, I want to explain a few of my principles guiding the drafting of the Violence Against Women Act of 2005. First, I remain dedicated to the cornerstone programs in the Act such as the STOP grant program, the Rural Grant program and the National Domestic Violence Hotline. These are enormously successful initiatives that are the scaffolding of the Act. These foundations must be strengthened, not neglected.

Second, ending domestic violence and sexual assault has, and will continue to cost money. This is simply not a goal that can be accomplished on the cheap. Our success in ending family violence is not a signal to reduce funding; rather the opposite is so. We can't afford to lose the gains that we have made. We've found a winning combination, and Congress should continue to spend its money so effectively.

Third, today's bill is an ambitious, but reasoned, effort to solve the next level of challenges for battered women and their children. We've made tremendous strides in treating domestic violence and sexual assaults as public crimes with accountable offenders and creating coordinated community responses to help victims. Our next task is to look beyond the immediate crisis and provide long-term solutions for victims, as well as redouble our prevention efforts. Therefore, this bill includes important efforts to ease the housing crisis for victims fleeing their homes, provide more economic security for victims by preserving their employment stability, engage boys and men in initiatives to prevent domestic violence from occurring in the first place, and enlist the healthcare community in identifying and treating victims.

My final principle is that ending violence against women is truly a shared goal--one that is held by Democrats and Republicans, one that is upheld by men and women, and one that is desired by both government and by the private sector. The continued success of the Violence Against Women Act depends upon bipartisanship commitment.

Today's bill includes the following components. Title I on the criminal justice system includes provisions to: 1. Renew and increase funding to over $400 million a year for existing fundamental grant programs for law enforcement, lawyers, judges and advocates; 2. stiffen existing criminal penalties for repeat Federal domestic violence offenders; and 3. update the criminal law on stalking to incorporate new surveillance technology like Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

Title II on critical victim services will: 1. Create a new, dedicated grant program for sexual assault victims that will strengthen the 1,300 rape crisis centers across the country; 2. reinvigorate programs to help older and disabled victims of domestic violence; 3. strengthen existing programs for rural victims and victims in underserved areas; and 4. increase funding to $5 million annually for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Reports indicate that up to ten million children experience domestic violence in their homes each year. Experts agree that domestic violence affects children in multiple, complicated and long-lasting ways. Every risk, every injury, and every disruption that a battered woman endures is one that her children experiences as well. The complex impact of domestic violence--fear for one's safety at home, depression, loss of income, moving from the family home, school disruptions and grieving for a father--are complicated and traumatic for children. Treating children who witness domestic violence, dealing effectively with violent teenage relationships and teaching prevention strategies to children are keys to ending the violence. Title III includes measures to: 1. Promote collaboration between domestic violence experts and child welfare agencies; and 2. enhance to $15 million a year, grants to reduce violence against women on college campuses. Title IV focuses on prevention strategies and includes programs supporting home visitations and specifically engaging men and boys in efforts to end domestic and sexual violence.

Doctors and nurses, like police officers on the beat, are often the first witnesses of the devastating aftermath of abuse. As first responders, they must be fully engaged in the effort to end the violence and possess the tools they need to faithfully screen, treat, and study family violence. Title V strengthens the health care system's response to family violence with programs to train and educate health care professionals on domestic and sexual violence, foster family violence screening for patients, and more studies on the health ramifications of family violence.

In some instances, women face the untenable choice of returning to their abuser or becoming homeless. Indeed, 44 percent of the Nation's mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness. Efforts to ease the housing problems for battered women are contained in Title VI, including: 1. Collaborative grant programs between domestic violence organizations and housing providers; 2. programs to combat family violence in public and assisted housing; and 3. enhancements to transitional housing resources.

Leaving a violent partner often requires battered women to achieve a level of economic security. Title VII seeks to help abused women maintain secure employment by permitting battered women to take limited employment leave to address domestic violence, such as attend court proceedings, or move to a shelter. This is an issue long championed by the late Senator Wellstone and Senator MURRAY, and I glad that we are able to include this provision in today's bill.

Despite the historic immigration law changes made in the Violence Against Women Act of 2000 that opened new and safe routes to immigration status, battered immigrant women often have a very difficult time escaping abuse because of immigration laws, language barriers, and social isolation. Title VIII's immigration provisions go a long way toward wresting immigration control away from the batterer and pave the way for the victim to leave a violent home. In addition, it would ensure that victims of trafficking are supported with measures such as permitting their families to join them in certain circumstances, expanding the duration of a T-visa, and providing resources to victims who assist in investigations or prosecutions of trafficking cases brought by State or Federal authorities.

In an effort to focus more closely on violence against Indian women, Title IX creates a new tribal Deputy Director in the Office on Violence Against Women dedicated to coordinating Federal tribal policy. In addition, Title IX authorizes tribal governments to access and upload domestic violence and protection order data on criminal databases, as well as create tribal sex offender registries.

I am proud to introduce with Senators HATCH and SPECTER this comprehensive bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. I want to thank Senator HATCH, a longstanding champion on this issue, for diligently working on this bill with Senator SPECTER and me. Since 1990, Senator HATCH and I have worked together to end family violence in this country, so it is no great surprise that once again he worked side-by-side with us to craft today's bill. I am also deeply indebted to Senator KENNEDY for his unwavering commitment to battered immigrant women and his work on the bill's immigration provisions. I also thank Senator LEAHY who has long-supported the Violence Against Women Act and in particular, has worked on the rural programs and transitional housing provisions. Finally, I thank my very good friend from Pennsylvania for his commitment and leadership on this bill. It is a pleasure to work with Senator SPECTER. I know that he will adeptly and expeditiously move the Violence Against Women Act through his Committee.

In closing, I urge my colleagues to review today's Violence Against Women Act of 2005 and add their support. I understand that there are other proposals that should be considered before the full Senate debates this legislation. Refinements will certainly be made to improve what is currently in this bill. I welcome any suggestions that you may have, and look forward to coming back to the floor to urge final passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 2005.

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