Commentary: Protecting Those Threatened by Domestic Violence

Commentary: Protecting Those Threatened by Domestic Violence

September marks 20th Anniversary of Violence Against Women Act.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) – landmark legislation in which our nation committed new prevention and response resources so that our mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends would no longer have to suffer in silence through domestic abuse.

Though meaningful progress has been realized, domestic violence continues to be a real and troubling challenge in our communities. Far too many of us have been touched by domestic violence in one way or another. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims each year, and one in every four women will experience such violence in their lifetime.

Just last year, Turning Points, the only domestic violence intervention program in Prince William County, served 6,000 clients. In Fairfax County there were more than 8,000 incidents reported, and we have seen a 40 percent increase in homelessness due to domestic violence.

This is why I was so disappointed when the House Republican majority blocked a bipartisan modernization of VAWA for 18 months before relenting last year. The Senate passed the bill in a strong and bipartisan 78-22 vote, but some House Republicans objected because they did not want to extend protections to Native Americans, LGBT Americans, and immigrants. Thankfully, House leadership finally put aside this obstructionism and ultimately allowed the House to pass the improved VAWA bill, which I and an overwhelming number of Democrats supported.

Thanks to VAWA, we have strengthened and expanded critical protections for all victims of domestic violence and enhanced our nation’s criminal justice response. Specifically, VAWA has instituted stricter sentencing guidelines for repeat federal sex crime offenders and provided resources to tribal, local, and state law enforcement communities to address violent crimes against women. In addition, VAWA funds specialized training for 500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and other personnel every year. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, which responds to more than 22,000 urgent calls for help every month, also was created under VAWA.

The updated VAWA is renewing our successful partnerships with local nonprofits and law enforcement agencies. It is improving protections for underserved communities, particularly immigrants and victims of human trafficking. And of particular importance for helping victims through the recovery process, the new bill is expanding housing assistance and providing support regardless of sexual orientation.

Sadly, recent events in the news demonstrate that although we have made great progress, as a community we must remain vigilant in protecting those threatened by domestic violence. Please know that I will continue to push Congress to maintain and expand the investments needed to support these critical programs in our community and continue to be a voice of support to those who might otherwise not speak up for themselves.