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Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, last spring, just before the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, I came to the floor to share some words from my late dear friend Sheila Wellstone whose commitment to ending domestic violence is an everlasting source of inspiration to my wife Franni and to me.

I shared with my colleagues something Sheila said, which was this:

I have chosen to focus on domestic violence because I find it appalling that a woman's home can be the most dangerous, the most violent, and, in fact, the most deadly place for her. And if she is a mother, it is dangerous for her children. ..... It's time that we tell the secret; it's time that we all come together to work toward ending the violence.

Sheila's words rang true in her time, but they have perhaps never rung more true than they do today. It is time that we all come together to work toward ending the violence.

We passed the VAWA Reauthorization Act in the Senate last April, but the House did not let it go to the President for signature and enactment, so we are back here today voting on the bill again because those of us who believe in VAWA will continue to fight for the bill's passage until it is signed into law. I encourage my colleagues, both in the Senate and in the House, to come together to work toward ending the violence, to support this bill.

The bill's managers, Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy and Senator Mike Crapo, have demonstrated remarkable resolve and leadership. We all are grateful for that. I also thank them for inviting me to author two parts of the VAWA reauthorization bill, which I would like to describe briefly.

First, the VAWA Reauthorization Act includes provisions from the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act. We just heard Senator Hagan talk about an aspect of that. This is one of the first bills I introduced after being sworn in to the Senate. When this bill becomes law, never again will survivors of sexual assault suffer the indignity of paying for the forensic medical exam, the rape kit. VAWA provides State and local governments with funding to administer these exams, which are used to collect evidence in sexual assault cases. The problem is that under current law, grant recipients can charge the survivor--the victim--for the upfront cost of administering the exam, leaving her to seek reimbursement later. Too often survivors get lost in a maze of paperwork and they are not reimbursed. Under my bill, grant recipients will be able to charge insurance companies or victims' assistance funds or other sources, but they cannot charge the survivor. I believe survivors of sexual violence have endured enough already. They should not have to pay for rape kits, and they will not have to once this bill is passed and signed by the President and becomes law.

Second, the VAWA reauthorization bill includes the Housing Rights for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence Act, legislation I introduced with Senator Collins and Senator Mikulski in the fall of 2011. This bill will help women stay in their homes when they are the most vulnerable, when they need a roof over their heads the most. The link between violence and homelessness is undeniable. By one account, nearly 40 percent of women who experience domestic violence will become homeless at some point in their lives. Once a woman becomes homeless, she becomes even more vulnerable to physical or sexual abuse. In my State, nearly one in three homeless women is fleeing domestic violence, and half of those women have children with them. That is unacceptable.

Franni and I have visited battered women's shelters, and I have to tell you it is heartbreaking. They are crowded. They are full. And a lot of mothers are there with their kids. On a bitter-cold Minnesota night, these women often have nowhere to go. Transitional housing is really important. If a woman has a choice between going out in the cold winter night in Minnesota or maybe going back to her abuser and exposing children to that, that is wrong. This can be heartbreaking.

But there is something heartwarming too about seeing people come to each other's aid in their time of need. That is what the people who run the shelters do every day--the staff of Advocates for Family Peace in Itasca County, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, the Casa de Esperanza, and the many other advocacy groups across my State. Talk to these folks about VAWA, and they will tell you what it means for women in Minnesota. It means nights spent under a roof instead of in a tent or in a car or on a street or, even worse, having to go back to live with their abuser and exposing their children to that danger, to witnessing that violence. We need these shelters and transitional housing programs for women who are fleeing danger. The VAWA reauthorization bill provides continued support for these programs.

My housing rights legislation provides additional support. It is a preventive measure that is intended to keep women from becoming homeless in the first place. My bill will make it unlawful to evict a woman from federally subsidized housing just because she is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. A woman may be living away from her abuser in Federal housing and the abuser comes and knocks down the door and the landlord will say: Let's evict her. Under my bill, that cannot happen in Federally subsidized housing. This bill is for every woman who has hesitated to call the police to enforce a protective order because she is afraid she will be evicted from her home if she does so.

The VAWA Reauthorization Act is a crucial bill. It is a good bill. It is an important bill, and I encourage my colleagues to support it.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record these letters from professional medical organizations in support of S. 47, the Violence Against Women Act.

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