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Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. JACKSON LEE. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman very much, and I thank the gentlelady, Congresswoman Moore, for her leadership, and thank her for bringing reality to this day. For the last 18 years, we have had the cover of the Violence Against Women Act, and I was glad to be here in the reauthorization timeframe. But I am also very glad to claim that the amendment that was offered by Congresswoman Moore and Conyers and Slaughter and myself in the Rules Committee prevailed, for we, in fact, introduced the Senate bill. But the leadership of the House, as it relates to the Democratic Members, was strong because we introduced a bill just like it.

But let me tell you what is happening with the legislation from the House side. The substitute is fuzzy legislation. It is almost as if you name your son and daughter Jane and John, but you starting calling them girl and boy. You take away the definitiveness of who they are.

Just a couple of months before, one of the coeds, a young college student, a young woman college student at the University of Virginia was murdered by her boyfriend. And so in the bill that we want to see passed, the Senate bill, we have protections for college students. We have definitive protection for Native American women, many of whom are married to non-Native Americans, and many times those cases are not prosecuted.

And so you cannot expect the U.S. Attorney to follow fuzzy legislation. You have to define that they have the jurisdiction to prosecute these cases.

With respect to immigrant women, isn't it ridiculous that you must contact the abuser and get the corroboration of the abuser. What does that say to that immigrant woman who needs to tell what is happening to her, how she is being held hostage because of her immigrant or nonimmigrant status.

I say to you that every 9 seconds a woman in the United States is assaulted or beaten by stalkers or her partner. Every year in the United States, 1,000 to 1,600 women die at the hands of their male partners even though we've made great strides in improving it under the Violence Against Women Act. One in five women have been raped in their lifetime. Four women have been the victim of severe physical violence.

We need the Senate compromise. We need the Senate bipartisan bill. Don't vote for fuzzy legislation.

[Begin Insert]

Madam Speaker, I rise in opposition to the Republican Substitute for S. 47, the so-called Violence Against Women's Reauthorization put forth by my House colleagues on the other side.

This is essentially a closed-rule on a bill that for nearly two decades has been bipartisan and non-controversial. Today, the majority stands ready to ram a stripped-down version of VAWA down the throats of the American people. Unfortunately, the bipartisan version passed by the Senate with a vote of 78-22, including all of the women in the Senate, will not even see a vote in this body.

It would have been logical, expedient, and sensible if the Majority had simply taken up the Moore-Conyers-Slaughter-Jackson Lee VAWA amendment, which is a comprehensive update to the successful law which offers protections for all victims of violence. Out amendment is the Senate-passed version which on behalf of Congressman Conyers and many of our colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, I put forth the case to take up this Senate version.

Over the last 18 years, VAWA has provided life-saving assistance to hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children. Originally passed by Congress in 1994 as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, this landmark bipartisan legislation was enacted in response to the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence and the significant impact that such violence has on the lives of women.

Today, as I stand on the Floor of the House, I realize that the majority has made some changes to the Senate-passed bill---that point to a disturbing pattern since the tenor, tone, and overall thrust of this bill looks like a repeat of H.R. 4970, which we passed last year.

This Act offered a comprehensive approach to reducing this violence and marked a national commitment to reverse the legacy of laws and social norms that served to excuse, and even justify, violence against women.

Originally championed by then-Senator Joseph Biden and Judiciary Committee Representative John Conyers, Jr., the original VAWA was supported by a broad coalition of experts and advocates including law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, victim service providers, faith leaders, health care professionals, and survivors. The law has since been reauthorized two times--in 2000 and 2005--with strong bipartisan approval in Congress and with overwhelming support from states and local communities.

If I were an outside commentator looking in, I'd be pressed to ask what Frankenstein Monster has overtaken the 112th Congress to the point that we cannot even pass this previously bipartisan bill without resorting to partisan posturing. I ask you who would be against giving protections to our most vulnerable.

Just last month a co-ed at the venerable University of Virginia, my alma mater was convicted of murdering his girlfriend. This hits close to home. As well as Yvette Cade, who had acid poured over her face by an irate ex-husband. As well as the murder of Annie Le at Harvard University. And unfortunately, I could go on and on. These women were white, black, and Asian, living in different cities under different circumstances. They had one common denominator: victims of abject and perverse violence. Lives destroyed because of men-at-rage.

With each reauthorization, VAWA has been improved in meaningful ways to reflect a growing understanding of how best to meet the varied and changing needs of survivors.

Among other significant changes, the reauthorization of VAWA in 2000 improved the law with respect to the needs of battered immigrants, older victims, and victims with disabilities.

The continuation and improvement of these programs is critical to maintaining the significant progress made in increased reporting and decreased deaths during the time VAWA has been in effect.

Unfortunately, this version of S. 47 weakens vital improvements contained in the recently passed Senate VAWA bill, including provisions designed to increase the safety of Native American women and LGBTW victims. Further, S. 47 actually includes damaging provisions that roll back years of progress to protect the safety of immigrant victims.

Specifically, H.R. 4970 will create obstacles for immigrant victims seeking to report crimes and increase danger for immigrant victims by eliminating important confidentiality protections.

When millions of women and men need the protections and services it includes. Since it first became law in 1994, millions have benefited from VAWA.

VAWA is working, while rates of domestic violence have dropped by over 50 percent in the past 18 years. There remains a lot of work to be done, still have a lot of work ahead of us.

In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the first National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), which found:

1 in 5 women have been raped in their lifetime and 1 in 4 women have been the victim of severe physical violence by a partner;

Over 80% of women who were victimized experienced significant short-term and long-term impacts related to the violence and were more likely to experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and long-term chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes.

Every nine seconds a woman in the United States is assaulted or beaten by stalkers or her partner.

Every year in the United States, 1,000 to 1,600 women die at the hands of their male partners, often after a long, escalating pattern of battering.

In 2009, 111 women were killed by their former or current husband, intimate partner or boyfriend in State of Texas.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury for women in America.

According to a study, there are more victims of domestic violence than victims of rape, mugging and automobile accidents combined. VAWA was designed to address these gruesome statistics.

VAWA established the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which receives over 22,000 calls each month. VAWA funds train over 500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and other personnel each year.

This landmark legislation sent the message that violence against women is a crime and will not be tolerated.

States are taking violence against women more seriously and all states now have stalking laws, criminal sanctions for violation of civil protection orders, and reforms that make date or spousal rape as serious of a crime as stranger rape.

Moore-Conyers-Slaughter-Jackson Lee VAWA amendment to S. 47--Representative MOORE's VAWA reauthorization bill is an excellent companion to the Senate-passed version. Why are we not discussing this legislation--using it as a launching point to get where we need to go.

Destroying VAWA Confidentiality. Since 1996, VAWA has contained strong confidentiality provisions to protect victims and prevent abusers from using the immigration system against their victims. When this Committee expanded those protections to trafficking victims in 2005, Chairman SENSENBRENNER's report noted the importance of preventing abusers from ``using DHS to obtain information about their victims, including the existence of a VAWA immigration petition'' and preventing agents from ``initiat[ing] contact with abusers.'' This bill destroys confidentiality by authorizing immigration agents to contact abusers and tip them off to victims' efforts to leave. This puts domestic violence victims at risk of severe retaliation and makes it far less likely that they will seek protection in the first place.

Requiring the Consideration of Uncorroborated Abuser Statements. It is well-established that abusers will say and do almost anything to prevent a victim from seeking protection or corroborating with law enforcement. As the 2005 Committee report makes clear, abusers often ``interfer[e] with or undermin[e] their victims' immigration cases, and encourag[e] immigration enforcement officers to pursue removal actions against their victims.''

For this reason, the Committee specifically allowed DHS to consider evidence presented by abusers, but only if corroborated. The Cantor/Adams bill would now undo that protection and require agents to consider uncorroborated statements, even though abusers have every incentive to lie. This will delay or deny protection, essentially giving abusers veto authority over certain victims.

The Jackson Lee amendment will reauthorize the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program through 2017. The program has been effective in reducing rape kit backlogs and would help law enforcement better collect and use evidence in sexual assault cases, and help all levels of the criminal justice system work together to ensure that rape kits are tested. In addition, my amendment increases the percentage of grant funds available for use in testing the backlog of rape kits from 40 percent to 70 percent.

As many of my colleagues will recall, we considered this issue in May of 2010 in response to widespread reports in the media of backlogs. This is simply unacceptable.

Consider the fact that in the time it will take for us to conduct this hearing, 60 individuals in the United States will be sexually assaulted.

The Violence Against Women reauthorization contains many of the provisions that make important changes to the current law, such as consolidating duplicative programs and streamlining others; providing greater flexibility for how communities utilize resources; and including new training requirements for people providing legal assistance to victims.

While the amendment wasn't included in the final Senate version of the VAWA reauthorization bill, or the House version which passed out of the Judiciary Committee last week, it was endorsed by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence which represents over 1,000 organizations across the nation.

Over the past three years, a series of embarrassing investigations into major police departments in Texas and other cities around the country revealed an appallingly large backlog of untested rape kits. Backlogs of thousands of untested kits have made headlines in Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Dallas, prompting efforts in those cities to finally test the evidence.

Last year, the Texas Legislature passed a law--Senate Bill 1636, authored by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth--to mandate examination of evidence from rape cases statewide, requiring even the smallest law enforcement agencies to report how many rape kits they've left untested, then submit them to a crime lab.

These being lean times in Texas, the Legislature passed the bill without allocating new funding to the cause. It's up to crime labs and police departments to raise money to test the old evidence. ``One of the solutions offered by 1636 is that we'd get a complete picture,'' says Torie Camp, deputy director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. Law enforcement agencies were required to report their rape kit backlogs to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) by mid-October of last year. That hasn't happened.

DPS records obtained by the Observer show that as of January 23--three months after the deadline--just 86 of the state's 2,647 law enforcement agencies had reported their backlogs.

As many of us know, rape kit collection and testing is important in moving cases through the criminal justice system. Approximately 200,000 incidents of rape are reportedly in the United States annually. A vast majority of these sexual assault victims consent and undertake medical examination immediately following the attack, thus enabling hospital/clinic personnel and police officers to collect evidence for a rape kit.

Studies have repeatedly shown that incidents where rape kit collections contain DNA are more likely to move forward in the criminal justice system than cases where no rape kit is collected. Testing the evidence collected in these rape kits enable officers to identify the attacker, confirm that sexual contact occurred between a suspect and a victim, corroborate the victim's account of the sexual assault, and exonerate innocent suspects.

Testing the evidence collected in the rape kits also helps prosecutors in deciding whether to pursue a case and likewise, help juries in deciding whether to convict an alleged perpetrator. While national statistics have not confirmed the exact number of untested rape kits, it is estimated that approximately 180,000 of these rape kits remain untested.

Two years ago I met with one of our witnesses at the Crime Subcommittee Hearing on Rape Kit Backlogs, Ms. Valeria Neumann, a 24 year old young woman who was the victim of rape nearly four years ago. During our meeting, Ms. Neumann informed me that although a rape kit was performed the same night that she reported the incident, the rape kit has never been tested.

According to Ms. Neumann, the prosecutor in the case has not brought an action against her alleged perpetrator after questioning him, even though crucial evidence could have been obtained had the rape kit been processed. When considered in light of the glaring statistics, Ms. Neumann's story seems all too common.

According to a Human Rights Watch research, the United States boast an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 untested rape kits which are sitting in police storage facilities and crime labs across the nation. Mister Chairman, untested rape kits represent lost justice for rape victims and a potential threat to public safety and society in general. The United States has repeatedly implemented several legislative initiatives aimed at bringing the rape kit backlog to an end.

We began with the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, followed by the Debbie Smith Act. We then transitioned to the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act. In spite of these measures, I believe that the United States can do a better job of providing redress for victims, bringing offenders to justice and protecting society from future and/or reoccurring crimes of rape.

Several preliminary initiatives can be implemented toward this goal of eliminating rape kit backlog. First, recognizing that rape has the lowest reporting, arrest and prosecution rates of all violent crime in the U.S., I believe that the revolution in DNA technology could move many of these rape cases forward in the criminal justice system.

I urge my colleagues to reject this flawed bill and call upon this body to work with the Senate to pass bipartisan legislation that helps women--and does not go back on decades of work.

VAWA was created because Congress recognized that immigration was being used as a weapon by abusers. S. 47 would return that weapon to abusers. H.R. 4970 would roll back years of progress and bi-partisan commitment on the part of Congress to protect vulnerable immigrant victims of domestic violence, stalking, sex crimes, other serious crimes, and trafficking. H.R. 4970 would place victims of domestic violence in danger, deter victims of crime from cooperating with law enforcement, and hold victims of abuse to a higher standard than other applicants for immigration benefits. In short, H.R. 4970 denies victims protection and even helps perpetrate the very abuse from which they are seeking to escape.

S. 47 would place immigrant victims of domestic violence who seek lawful status in the U.S. at risk. VAWA ``self-petitioning'' was created in 1994 to assist immigrant victims of domestic violence obtain status on their own when their U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident spouses, as part of the abuse, refused to petition for them. H.R. 4970 would roll back these protections.

Section 801 permits the abuser to manipulate the victim's immigration process by allowing USCIS to seek input from the abuser as part of the VAWA self-petition process. Commonly, abusers resort to more violence when they learn that victims have sought protection from law enforcement. H.R. 4970 would put the lives of victims in even greater jeopardy.

S. 47 creates extra hurdles for victims to jump through, making lawful status even more difficult for victims to attain. Section 801 of H.R. 4970 would make it more difficult for victims of abuse to obtain lawful status by requiring VAWA applicants to establish their eligibility for lawful status by ``clear and convincing'' evidence--a higher standard than most other applicants applying for relief before USCIS.

Many domestic violence victims have been waiting for lawful status for years because their abusers refused to file spousal visa petitions for them, using control over the victims' immigration status as a tool of abuse. The VAWA self-petition process was created to provide victims with a means of obtaining the status for which they were eligible under the law and which they would have obtained but for the abuse. Section 801 establishes an unnecessarily high standard that will deprive many victims of protection.

S. 47 would punish victims more harshly than other applicants for providing incorrect information, regardless of intent or knowledge. (Section 801) The INA already makes someone ineligible for relief if they commit fraud or willfully misrepresent a material fact when seeking an immigrant benefit. However, under the guise of fraud prevention, H.R. 4970 would go much further by requiring the removal, on an expedited basis, of a victim where there is any evidence of any material misrepresentation at any point during the process, regardless of whether the victim had any intent to defraud the government. H.R. 4970 would also permanently bar the immigrant from any future immigrant status, without any possibility of a waiver. Finally, H.R. 4970 would require that these applicants be referred to the FBI for criminal prosecution. Thus, an innocent mistake by a victim when completing the application could result in victims and their children being subject to expedited removal and permanently barred from the U.S.

S. 47 would unduly restrict U-visas and undermine the safety of our communities. (Section 802) Currently, to obtain a U-visa (for victims of serious crime), a federal, state, or local law enforcement officer must certify that the applicant has, is, or is likely to be helpful in investigation or prosecuting the crime perpetrated against them. H.R. 4970 would restrict law enforcement agency certification only to victims who reported the crime within 60 days. Many victims of crimes--especially victims of sexual abuse, child abuse, and rape--are too traumatized or too afraid to come forward immediately. A 60-day time limit for reporting crimes would silence many immigrant victims. H.R. 4970 would deprive victims of protection, discourage them from reporting crimes, and make all of us less safe.

S. 47 would deny victims the opportunity to apply for a green card. In 2000, the ``U'' Visa was created as part of VAWA to encourage vulnerable victims of particularly serious crimes to come forward and report those crimes by removing the fear that they, rather than the perpetrator, would wind up in immigration detention or deported. When victims of crimes are afraid to go to the police, we are all less safe. H.R. 4970 would undermine the U-visa process by making the U-visa only temporary, with no eligibility to apply for future lawful permanent residence status.

The S. 47 Republican substitute retains a few of the helpful provisions included in S. 1925. These include:

Permitting children of VAWA self-petitioners to obtain derivative status if the petitioner passes away during the application process;

Eliminating the public charge ground of inadmissibility for VAWA self-petitioners and U-visa holders.

Age-out protections for children of U-visa holders who were under 21 at the time that the parent applied for U-visa status and age-out protections for U-visa holders who were minors at the time of application for U-visa status so that their relatives can still join them.

I call on the Members of the House to vote down this nefarious, ill-conceived piece of legislation.


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