House Judiciary Committee Passes Violence Against Women Act

The House Judiciary Committee passed the Violence Against Women Act on July 27, a week after actress Salma Hayek, former Boston Celtic M.L. Carr and experts on domestic, dating and sexual violence and stalking urged Congress to quickly reauthorize the bill at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

"This time, instead of focusing on adult victims of violence only, we try to address the problem of violence against children and youth by including programs for college campuses and assistance to youth who are themselves victims of violence," said Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) in hailing "dramatic improvements" in the bill. "We also try to broaden our scope by not only focusing on services for victims, but also by focusing on effective prevention programs targeting children who have been exposed to violence and young families at risk for violence... this time around we have tried to recognize the obstacles that some racial and ethnic minorities face in the mainstream system and have included language that allows programs to target communities of color."

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) stressed the importance of including health and housing provisions, which were omitted from the House version of the bill.

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing

"We have a duty to help heal the pain of our sisters and our mothers and our friends," said Hayek, a spokesperson for the Avon Foundation, at the crowded Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on July 19. "It is imperative that we continue to provide public outreach and education to the many cultures and communities that flourish in the United States, in their own languages and in ways that are respectful of the worlds they inhabit."

"As a professional basketball player and coach, I saw firsthand the opportunity that sports figures and coaches have to influence youth, and I saw what can happen when young people don’t have positive role models," Carr told the Committee. "The Violence Against Women Act of 2005 aims to open the necessary dialogue and extend the opportunity to shape our children’s future to every concerned adult." Carr is President and CEO of Warm2Kids, and a member of the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) board of directors.

Senators Express Support

"This is not the time to scale back our efforts," Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) said. "Instead, Congress must usher the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) into the 21st century and plant the seeds with the next generation of children who must be taught that abuse will not be tolerated."

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) added, "VAWA has succeeded for two important reasons. First, it sends a powerful message that domestic violence is a national problem. Second, it promotes a coordinated approach to domestic violence, respectful of state authority, that brings together federal agencies with local law enforcement and service providers."

Reauthorizing VAWA would continue essential programs; fund services for victims of sexual assault; help children and youth who experience or witness violence; address the needs of victims from communities of color; aid immigrant and tribal victims; and support prevention, health, housing and economic security programs designed to stop violence and help victims.

VAWA will expire in September unless Congress acts. Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the bill in the Senate in June. It has 43 Senate co-sponsors.

Representatives Mark Green (R-WI), John Conyers (D-MI), Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL) and Hilda Solis (D-CA) introduced a similar version of VAWA in the House of Representatives in June.

Expert Witnesses

"In response to overwhelming need, the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 would provide increased resources to serve sexual assault victims," National Center for Victims of Crime Executive Director Mary Lou Leary testified. "This historic legislation would strengthen our ability to stop stalkers… With the support of Congress and the frontline work of thousands of advocates and criminal justice professionals across the country, Americans can be confident that we will build on our success, expand our reach, and work to end sexual assault, stalking, domestic and dating violence."

"The goal of ending domestic violence is an ambitious one, but one that can be reached," National Network to End Domestic Violence Executive Director Lynn Rosenthal told the Committee. "I urge Congress to fulfill your commitment to victims of domestic violence by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act to ensure that the progress made will continue and that domestic violence will be eradicated."

Other witnesses were Diane Stuart, Director, Office of Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice and Ted Sexton, President, National Sheriff’s Association.

Opposition

As many expected, opponents of VAWA attended the hearing as well. The ultra-conservative Eagle Forum released a statement from its President, Phyllis Schlafly the American Coalition for Fathers & Children issued an open letter signed by 13 leaders asking Congress to significantly modify VAWA.

No Senators acknowledged the opponents or their materials, and Men’s Resources International released a pro-VAWA declaration signed by more than 800 men from 44 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

More information on VAWA is available at www.endabuse.org/vawa.

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