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Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WELCH. Thank you.

You've been a leader on this; but the challenge that we face in Congress is whether we're going to take seriously the epidemic of violence that's inflicted on women throughout this country. This legislation has to address what is a very serious problem in this country, which is that women are being subjected to violent attacks and that do we have it in our heart--do we have it in our will?--to provide legal protections to women who are the victims of assaultive and violent conduct in this country? It's really that simple.

That should apply to all women. Any person who is attacked on the basis of gender should be protected. What their views are about anything--what their views are on politics, what their views are on sexual orientation--are really irrelevant to the basic, independent, individual right that all of us have--men and women, incidentally--which is to live our lives in peace and with protection and with the confidence that our physical integrity will not be violated. It's really as simple as that.

So this is a question of whether this country has it in its heart to understand that there is violence out there that is affecting half of our population. Do we as a society have the desire and have the will to provide legal protection to people who are on the receiving end of violent conduct?

In my view, we have that in our heart, we have it in our soul, we have it in our will, and we can do it.

Ms. EDWARDS. I think the gentleman from Vermont raises an interesting point. We do have it in our heart. The question is whether we have the will to do the right thing.

This is not a selfish question, because, in fact, while we can sympathize and empathize with the experiences of victims and can provide support and services to them, we also recognize that it is really costly to us as a society when people are experiencing violence in their homes. It impacts our workplaces; it impacts our communities; it impacts our streets. When young people witness violence--when children witness violence in their homes--it is more likely that they will either experience violence themselves or they will become perpetrators. Our prisons and jails are filled with young people, men and women, who, when you get down to the core and ask them the question about their life experiences, will repeat to you their experiences of violence.

So this isn't an abstract question about whether we feel good in doing it. The impact for all of our communities and for society is really tremendous. Domestic violence spills out onto our streets and into our workplaces. It is estimated that the cost to our Nation is on the order of $8 billion in lost productivity because of domestic violence. It's attributed to productivity and to health care costs--the violence that causes 2 million injuries each year, three deaths each day, untold amounts of suffering to women and others who experience violence.

I know that we talk about women because the overwhelming majority of those who experience intimate partner violence are women, but we want to acknowledge that there are some men who experience violence. Some of those men are in same-sex relationships, and for some of those men, the women are perpetrators of violence; but the overwhelming majority of violence is violence that takes place between men and women, with men being the principal perpetrators.

It is why we've supported at the Federal level through the Violence Against Women Act a system of shelters and services and support for those who experience violence. It's why we've provided training for police officers, for all in law enforcement--for our prosecutors so that they become better prosecutors, for our judges so that they actually understand in our family courts and in our criminal courts what's going on with violence and so that it makes them better at meting out justice. It's the reason that we provide training in workplaces and with medical practitioners--so that they are able to identify when violence is happening in the emergency rooms and other health care facilities. It is the reason that here in this Congress we have this debate.

The fact is, under H.R. 4970, which we are considering, if you are an immigrant woman, you can say, You know what? The abuser, because he knows about my immigration status, can abuse me all he wants because I will not be afforded any protection. There is no place that I can go. If you are from the LGBT community, you can experience untold violence, and there will not be protections and services for you.

So H.R. 4970 actually turns on its head what we began to do in 1994 with the first passage of the Violence Against Women Act and with its subsequent reauthorizations, which is that we began to expand the protections. Then we began to ask: What are the levels of services that we can provide to communities, however they're situated, so that we can make sure we have culturally sensitive programs and services, linguistically sensitive programs and services, and programs targeted at specific communities so that they can take advantage of them?

Mr. WELCH. What about the kids? Whether they're lesbian or immigrants who take care of the children, isn't it the mothers who have the burden of that at the end of the day? Aren't we doing something that's going to protect those kids as well?

Ms. EDWARDS. The gentleman makes an amazing point.

When children witness violence, and especially as they grow older, children will often want to protect their mothers, and that actually puts them in greater danger. That is especially true for young boys, for male children, who will want to protect their mothers and think that they can intervene. There are children who grow up thinking that they were the reason that their mothers were experiencing violence, and then that has an untold downstream impact on them as they grow older.

The fact of the matter is we need to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and we need to do that in a bipartisan fashion. We need to make sure that whether you're an immigrant woman, whether you're a Native American woman, or whether you are in the LGBT community that you have the full protections of the law against experiencing violence in your intimate relationships. This is the least that we can do. It is just unfortunate that the Republicans aren't even going to allow an amendment that would actually allow us to expand these protections so that we could come to a bipartisan solution.

I can't tell you--I will just say to the chair--how sad it makes me as somebody who was in the trenches in 1990 to 1994, with advocates from across this country who were seeking to expand protections and services and programs for those who were experiencing violence, to know that we were able to do that with Republican Orrin Hatch from Utah; with Joe Biden from Delaware, a Democrat; with Connie Morella, a Republican from Maryland; with John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan. We were able to do that across the aisle; but today, instead, what we are doing is a Republican bill that would roll back the protections that many of us had sought to have.

Mr. WELCH. You make a good point.

Is it the case in this country that it's Republican women or Democratic women or Republican children or Democratic children who are on the bad end of violence? We know that's not the case. There is a lot of human emotion that goes into this, and it's uncontrolled emotion. We know that whether you are a Republican or a Democrat child or woman that you're entitled to the physical integrity of your own safety.

So it's not an issue that should be decided on partisan grounds. It should be decided on the basic right of human beings to physical security, and it should be about the goal all of us, I believe, have--that we want to have respectful and loving relationships, particularly in our intimate relationships.


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