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Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 -- Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise today to express support for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act--VAWA. VAWA is a critical piece of legislation that protects American women from the plague of domestic violence, stalking, dating violence and sexual assault. The Violence Against Women Act is the centerpiece of the federal government's efforts to combat domestic violence and sexual assault and has transformed the response to these crimes at the local, State and federal levels.

As my colleagues know, VAWA was signed into law in 1994. This body reauthorized it in 2000 and again in 2005 on an overwhelming bipartisan basis. And it is my hope that we can repeat this bipartisan cooperation with the current reauthorization bill. I applaud those on both sides of the aisle for coming together to support this legislation. The measure today has a total of 61 cosponsors, including eight Republicans. VAWA has always been bipartisan, is bipartisan today, and needs to come to a vote.

During my days as the mayor of San Francisco, law enforcement officers most worried about responding to domestic abuse calls. That is where things got really rough. Tragically, I saw it happen over and over again. It was a big problem then, and it remains a big problem today.

To address these problems, the bill reauthorizes a number of grant programs administered by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to provide funding for emergency shelter, counseling, and legal services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. It also provides support for State agencies, rape crisis centers, and organizations that provide services to vulnerable women. And American women are safer because we took action.

Today, more victims report incidents of domestic violence to the police, and the rate of non-fatal partner violence against women has decreased by 53 percent since 1994, according to the Department of Justice. Because of VAWA, States have the funding to implement ``evidence-based'' anti-domestic violence programs, including ``lethality screens,'' which law enforcement uses to predict when a person is at risk of becoming the victim of deadly abuse.

In my home state of California, with the help of VAWA funds, we reduced the number of domestic violence homicides committed annually by 30% between 1994, the year in which VAWA was enacted, and 2010. Simply put, VAWA funding saves lives.

An extremely noteworthy example of VAWA's success came to my office from the Alameda County District Attorney.

In 1997, Alameda County, CA reported 27 deaths as a result of domestic violence. That was about the normal rate at that time. But by last year, 2011, the district attorney reported just three deaths. The district attorney credits VAWA for reducing the number of domestic violence homicides in Alameda County. This is a clear example of why we need to reauthorize VAWA.

Through the use of VAWA funding, Alameda County created the Family Justice Center in 2005 to provide comprehensive services to adults and children who experience domestic violence or sexual assault. Today, the center is a national model of how communities can bring service professionals together to serve crime victims.

During these tough economic times, the demand for the Family Justice Center's services has grown--as has its need for VAWA funding. In the center's first year, they treated approximately 8,000 clients, including an estimated 1,000 children. In 2010, the center treated 12,000 clients. Last year, the center treated more than 18,000 women, men, children and teens who were victims of interpersonal violent crimes.

During a recent visit to my office, the Alameda County District Attorney noted that without VAWA funding it would not be possible for the Family Justice Center to continue to serve this growing population of crime victims.

The vital need for domestic violence prevention services was highlighted in a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention--CDC--which found that on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States. Over the course of a year, that equals more than 12 million women and men.

In California, about 30,000 people accessed crisis intervention services from one of California's 63 rape crisis centers in 2010 and 2011. These centers primarily rely on federal VAWA funding--not State funding--to provide services to victims in their communities.

In 2009 alone, there were more than 167,000 cases in California in which local county or State police officers were called to the scene of a domestic violence complaint according to the California Department of Justice.

The bill we are are considering today gives increased attention to victims of sexual violence. This form of violence is particularly destructive because, for many years, our society viewed sexual violence as the fault of the victim, not the perpetrator.

Although VAWA has always addressed the crime of sexual assault, a smaller percentage of the bill's grant funding goes to sexual assault victims than is proportional to their rates of victimization. The bill does three things to address this imbalance: No. 1, it provides an increased focus on training for law enforcement and prosecutors to address the ongoing needs of sexual assault victims; No. 2, the bill extends VAWA's housing protections to these victims; No. 3, and the bill ensures that those who are living with, but not married to, an abuser qualify for housing assistance available under VAWA.

The bill also updates the federal criminal code to clarify that cyberstalking is a crime. With increasing frequency, victims are being stalked over the Internet through e-mail, blogs, and Facebook. When stalking is done online, the message sent by the perpetrator is memorialized forever, making it more difficult for victims to put the painful experience in the past and move forward in their lives.

Despite the fact that the underlying bill has 61 cosponsors from both parties, not a single Republican member of the Judiciary Committee--of which I am a longtime member--voted to advance the legislation.

The bill considered in the Judiciary Committee includes several changes that I believe improve the underlying bill.

For example: It creates one very modest new grant program, consolidates 13 existing programs, and reduces authorization levels for all other programs by 17 percent. The new bill would decrease the total authorization level of $795 million in fiscal year 2011 to $659 million in fiscal year 2012. And it places emphasis on preventing domestic homicides and reduces the national backlog of untested rape kits.

Yet, there are some who refuse to support it because it now includes expanded protections for victims. Specifically, VAWA was expanded to include additional protections for gay and lesbian individuals, undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse, and authority for Native American tribes to prosecute crimes.

In my view, these are improvements. Domestic violence is domestic violence. I ask those who oppose the bill: If the victim is in a same-sex relationship, is the violence and danger any less real? If a family comes to this country and the husband beats his wife to a bloody pulp, do we say, well, you are illegal; I am sorry, you don't deserve any protection?

911 operators and police officers don't refuse to help a victim because of their sexual orientation or the country where they were born. When you call the police in America, they come.

VAWA will help ensure that all victims have access to life-saving services, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered victims experience domestic violence in 25 percent to 35 percent of relationships--the same rate as heterosexual couples. Yet, these victims are often turned away when they seek help from shelters and professional service providers and they do not receive the help they need.

VAWA would improve the LGBT community's ability to access services by explicitly prohibiting grant recipients from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity and by clarifying that gay and lesbian victims are included in the definition of underserved populations.

Domestic and sexual violence in Tribal communities is a problem of epidemic proportions. Studies indicate that nearly three out of five Native American women have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners. The VAWA Reauthorization bill provides law enforcement with additional tools to take on the plague of violence affecting Native women. The bill adds new Federal crimes--including a 10-year offense for assaulting a spouse or intimate partner by strangling or suffocation--the two types of assault that are frequently committed against women in Indian Country. And it closes loopholes to ensure that those who commit domestic violence in Indian Country do not escape justice.

The Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in Highland, CA recently wrote to me to emphasize the importance of closing the jurisdictional loophole. According to the chairman, the rampant violence against Native women can in part be attributed to the absence of tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators.

Crimes of domestic violence or dating violence that would typically lead to convictions and sentences of anywhere between 6 months and 5 years in U.S. courts are too often falling through the cracks in the legal system when identical crimes occur in Indian Country.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 is supported by over 50 national religious organizations including the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the National Council of Jewish Women, National Council of Catholic Women, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church.

As I mentioned earlier, law enforcement officers are at particular risk when they respond to domestic violence incidents. According to the Law Enforcement Officer Deaths Memorial Fund, in 2009, 23 percent of firearms-related deaths involved domestic disturbance calls. In 2010, eight officers were killed responding to domestic violence calls.

VAWA provides needed training to decrease the risk to law enforcement when responding to domestic violence calls. The legislation includes grants to develop and strengthen policies and training for law enforcement to recognize and effectively respond to instances of domestic abuse.

To me, this bill is a no-brainer. To stand in the way of this bill is almost to say we don't consider violence against women an important issue.

Let me repeat: this bill protects American women. It has support on both sides of the aisle. It saves lives. It is a lifeline for women and children who are in distress.

We need to show our commitment to end domestic violence and sexual violence. I hope that all senators will support this important effort to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with strong bipartisan support as we always have. This has always been a bipartisan effort. Let's vote and let's get it done.

I yield the floor.


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