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Public Statements

Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. COONS. Mr. President, I rise to speak on behalf of tens of thousands of Delawareans affected by domestic violence each year, as well as their families, their friends, and their allies across our State and our country.

Just a few minutes ago, my colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. It has earned strong bipartisan support through the nearly two decades since its original passage, and it was voted out earlier today.

Law enforcement agencies across this country are counting on us to move forward with the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, depending on the training and the resources to advocate for victims and to provide critical and lifesaving interventions that it funds.

As I asked for input from Delawareans in the last few weeks, one of the hundreds who took the time to write or call my office in strong support of the reauthorization of VAWA was a former New Castle County police officer. He e-mailed me to tell me he had seen firsthand that dedicated resources and innovative policing methods made possible by VAWA made a real difference in combating these types of crimes and improving the lives of victims.

The Violence Against Women Act has been extraordinarily effective, with the annual incidence of domestic violence falling by more than 50 percent since it was first passed. Yet we still have so far to go.

Just this week, I heard from hundreds of constituents in Delaware for whom this legislation has a deep and resounding importance. From young women in their twenties to senior citizens, Delawareans from all walks of life have reached out to ask us, as Members of the Senate, to take action without delay, to work with our colleagues in the House, and to reauthorize this most important bill.

Paul from Yorklyn, DE, wrote to say that as a father of two young daughters, he worries that if the Violence Against Women Act is not reauthorized, then victims of sexual assault will once again be subject to two traumas--first, horrific attacks and, second, trying to pursue justice against their attackers.

Linda from New Castle, DE, had the courage to write me personally and say:

First of all, I am a victim and I am not ashamed to say that [today].

Linda's willingness to lift the cloud of fear and shame that for so long enveloped victims of domestic and dating violence is brave and important in that she was able and willing to do that, but she also highlights the ongoing challenges we face. She described her hesitation to discuss abuse out loud and stressed the importance of talking about these crimes in the open in order to break what she called the generational curse.

As a son, as a husband, as a father, I too am deeply concerned about this curse that has moved from generation to generation and has affected families all throughout this country's history.

Evils such as domestic violence thrive in darkness. The Violence Against Women Act is a spotlight, and it deserves to be strengthened and sustained by this Senate today and this year.

The Violence Against Women Act requires reauthorization

every 5 years. This signifies a belief that protecting victims of domestic and dating violence is so important that we must revisit it to make sure we are getting it right.

Each time we go through the process of reauthorizing this bill, we learn more about what is needed. This time around, that process, I believe, has resulted in several critical enhancements; first, by bolstering the tools available to law enforcement. Along with my friend and colleague Senator Blunt, I cochair the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus. I am determined to ensure local agencies have the tools they need to support victims and to prosecute abusers. This reauthorization will do just that.

Second, our review made clear that perpetrators find their victims throughout our society without regard for sexual orientation or gender identity. So the reauthorization that was passed out of the Judiciary Committee just earlier today addresses that challenge by making this the very first Federal grant program to explicitly state that grant recipients cannot discriminate on the basis of a victim's status. Whether they are or are not a member of the LGBT community should be irrelevant to whether they are able to access the vital services funded by the VAWA.

Finally, this reauthorization recognizes our current difficult fiscal situation as a country and promotes accountability to make sure these dollars are well spent. It reduces authorization levels while protecting the programs which have been most successful. This VAWA reauthorization merges 13 existing programs into 4 streamlined and consolidated programs. This will prevent wasted time and effort and make the application and administrative processes more efficient.

I am honored to be joined today by an old and dear friend, a former countywide-elected official, Paulette Moore, now vice president of public policy for the National Network to End Domestic Violence. I am grateful to my dear friend Carol Post, who leads the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and my friend Amy Barasch, a tireless advocate in the ongoing efforts to bring to light the challenges of domestic violence in the State of New York.

There are folks all across this country who turn to this task week in and week out. It is long and tiring and difficult work, but it is uplifting because it is part of making this a more just, more safe, and more secure nation.

It is important for me to note that, unfortunately, some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle see the enhancements I just referred to in this reauthorization as a reason to abandon their long-term support for it, even though they have been strong backers of VAWA in the past. In fact, the vote we just took in the Judiciary Committee was 10 to 8. It only narrowly passed. I hope our friends on the other side of the aisle will review the details of these changes one more time and see their way clear to join us in this effort to strengthen and sustain the Violence Against Women Act. It is and should remain a bipartisan bill and a bipartisan effort.

My predecessor in this seat, our great Vice President, Joe Biden of Delaware, took an absolutely central leadership role in writing and passing the first Violence Against Women Act in one of the most enduring legacies of his 36-year Senate career, representing Delaware and advocating for women all over this country.

His efforts broke barriers and laid the groundwork for this current bill. But it is up to all of us to keep pushing tirelessly for Federal, State, and local governments to do more to save lives and to serve victims.

I urge my colleagues to come together and promptly pass the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Thank you to the men and women of this country who work so hard to end this terrible scourge of domestic violence in our country.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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