U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and public safety leaders in Delaware offered their support Monday for a Senate bill to reauthorize the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The legislation, which is similar to legislation passed by the Senate last year, faces a procedural vote Monday afternoon and is likely to be considered for final passage on Thursday.
"Domestic violence tears too many homes apart and rips at the fabric of our communities," Senator Coons said. "The Violence Against Women Act has meant so much to the safety of women in our communities, and it is shameful that partisan politics prevented its renewal last year. We're not giving up, though, and today the Senate has its first chance of the new Congress to show its commitment to strengthening and reauthorizing this law. VAWA programs provide critical support for efforts to eradicate this kind of violence, and I remain committed to working with my colleagues to ensure it can continue to play the vital role it has in our communities."
Senator Coons is a cosponsor of the legislation, as he was during the previous Congress. Although a bipartisan coalition of senators passed the legislation 68-31 last April, the House of Representatives refused to take up the measure and put the programs supported by VAWA at risk.
"The scale of domestic violence work has dramatically changed over the last two decades," Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Carol Post said. "This is due to many factors, but certainly the Violence Against Women Act is one of the major reasons for Delaware's improved, strengthened, and coordinated community response to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. We cannot afford to lose the ground we have gained over the last 20 years. Since its last reauthorization, nearly 3,400 women and children sought the safety and security of local shelters in Delaware and over 21,000 calls were made to local hotlines. Although progress has been made, our work is not complete. VAWA's reauthorization will ensure greater protections, services and justice to all victims. We are grateful for Delaware's continued leadership in this cause to end violence towards women and urge Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act now."
"The Violence Against Women Act has been a true asset to Delaware," State Senate Majority Leader Patti Blevins said. "Thanks to VAWA, we have been able to send funding directly to service providers to give victims of domestic violence and sexual assault counseling, legal assistance, translation services and so much more. We have been able to train police, enhance prosecution efforts and assist our courts in providing more targeted services to victims. The loss of VAWA funding would be tragic to Delaware and our efforts to make our state safer for victims of violence."
"Violence against women is a pervasive issue, not only in the City of Wilmington, but throughout the whole state of Delaware," Wilmington Police Chief Christine Dunning said. "Last year, the Wilmington Police Department's Victim Services Unit fielded over 1,500 reported cases of domestic violence, however, only a third of these reported victims accepted services. We believe these statistics only reflect the tip of the iceberg. Our Victim Services Unit advocates reported that women encounter multiple safety concerns and barriers that prevent them from reporting violence perpetuated against them. Some of these barriers are financial, where others may be due to limited English proficiency. It has been reported that the most dangerous time for a woman is after she initiates reporting violence inflicted against her. In order to combat this violence, additional resources must be dedicated to ensure women's safety and the safety of future generations."
The legislation would improve existing programs to address evolving needs in the fight against domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The legislation supports training for those on the front lines of efforts to eliminate domestic violence. It takes the important step of explicitly preventing grant recipients from discriminating against victims who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The legislation also promotes accountability to ensure that federal funds are used for their intended purposes, and consolidates programs and reduces authorization levels to address fiscal concerns while focusing on the programs that have been the most successful.
"In drafting the Violence Against Women Act nearly 20 years ago, Joe Biden revolutionized the way law enforcement confronts domestic violence," Senator Coons said. "This legislation has proven effective at diminishing the stigma associated with abuse by empowering more individuals to report cases to their local authorities. Law enforcement agencies across this country count on the critical resources provided under the Violence Against Women Act to support their work on behalf of victims and those at risk of becoming victims."
Originally drafted by then-Senator Biden, VAWA was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994, and has since been reauthorized twice: in 2000 and 2005. The law's current authorization, however, expired in September 2011. Programs supported by VAWA have provided victims with critical services such as transitional housing, legal assistance, and supervised visitation services. VAWA has also encouraged communities to coordinate their responses to domestic and sexual violence by bringing together victim advocates, law enforcement, the courts, health care professionals and leaders within faith communities.