Violence on Congress' Agenda

Congress is addressing a number of issues that relate to domestic and sexual violence against women and children. A Senate subcommittee recently held a hearing on domestic violence, the House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, and Senators Biden (DE), Boxer (CA) and Feinstein (CA) introduced the Violence Against Children Act of 2007. Senator Biden also introduced a bill that would recruit volunteer lawyers to represent domestic violence victims.

In addition, the appropriations process is well underway and advocates are pressing hard for full funding for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The law includes groundbreaking initiatives to help children exposed to violence, train health care providers to support victims of abuse, encourage men to teach the next generation that violence is wrong, provide crisis services for victims of rape and sexual assault, and address the needs of Native women. It also continues efforts to improve the law enforcement response to violence and provide supportive services, such as transitional housing, to women and children forced to leave their homes because of violence. To email your Senators and Representative to urge them to fully fund VAWA, visit http://action.endabuse.org/fvpf/home/.

Domestic Violence in the Workplace Hearing

“Too Much, Too Long? Domestic Violence in the Workplace” was the topic of a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety on April 17. Domestic violence survivor and advocate Yvette Cade, Legal Momentum President Kathy Rogers, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor Laura A. Fortman, and employment attorney Sue K. Willman testified.

Cade, Rogers and Fortman pressed for passage of the Survivors’ Empowerment and Economic Security Act to promote the economic security of victims. The Act would keep domestic violence victims from losing their jobs because they need time off to get restraining orders. It also would make them eligible for unemployment benefits.

“Cases of abuse, stalking, harassment and homicide don’t make the nightly news, but they do end lives, hurt businesses and alarm communities,” Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) said. “Each day we get terrible reminders that domestic violence doesn’t stay at home. It follows people into their workplace – posing safety, financial, and legal problems for victims, employers and other workers. If we ignore it, the horrible toll of domestic violence in the workplace will continue unchecked. But if we confront it, I believe we can make progress.”

Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007

This legislation would expand current federal hate crime categories to protect victims of crimes that are based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability. It would also provide federal assistance when local authorities are unable or unwilling to prosecute violent crimes and establish uniform protections against hate crimes motivated by gender bias. It would require the FBI to collect statistics on gender-based crimes – a vital tool that can help expose violence against women.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 237 to 180. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said, “This is an important vote of conscience, a statement of what America is – a society that understands that we accept differences.” The Washington Post editorialized, “Crimes that target someone because of his or her race or sexual orientation are more than an offense against that individual. They are crimes that terrorize whole communities.”

The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the hate crimes bill soon. President Bush has warned that he will veto the legislation.

National Domestic Violence Volunteer Attorney Network Act

This groundbreaking bill would create the first national system to recruit and train volunteer lawyers and match them with domestic violence victims in need. It would be managed by the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence which would create and maintain an electronic network of volunteers and then enlist the National Domestic Violence Hotline to provide legal referrals.

“This innovative bill builds on the best of American ideals – volunteerism, technology know-how, collaboration between the private and public sectors and our unwavering commitment to justice for all,” Senator Biden said. “I know that across the country there are lawyers who want to serve their community and this bill will pave the way.”

Violence Against Children Act of 2007

This legislation is designed to create a more comprehensive approach to stopping violent crime against children. It would make it a federal crime to intentionally cause serious bodily harm to people under age 18 if the crime involves interstate commerce or travel; authorize $50 million in grants each year for states and localities to fight crimes against children and train officials to better respond to these crimes; require states to gather better statistics and report to the federal government on their method of monitoring child protective services; provide federal assistance to deal with gangs; and help local schools implement safety measures.

“In recent years, we have heard countless stories of boys and girls being killed, abused or kidnapped. These horrible crimes must be stopped,” Senator Boxer said. “Senators Biden, Feinstein and I will work to get this bill passed – there is nothing more important than the well-being of our children.”

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