By Mariska Hargitay, actress (NBC"s Law and Order) and Terri Poore, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, S. 1925, introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), is the result of more than two years of work by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, a coalition of over 300 advocacy groups that includes the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and the Joyful Heart Foundation. Contributing their voices, experience and expertise, over 2,000 advocates from across the country worked to identify the most pressing needs of survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. S. 1925 is the version of VAWA that advocates support. While some Members of Congress have offered other versions of VAWA, only S. 1925 protects all survivors.
The bill includes funding for VAWA’s criminal justice grant programs to develop and strengthen Sexual Assault Response Teams and Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner programs. The legislation also provides funding for programs addressing rape kit backlogs, the hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in storage facilities across the country that represent missed opportunities for justice and sexual violence prevention.
VAWA’s sponsors, along with House and Senate staff and victim advocates from across the country, have consolidated its existing programs and strengthened accountability measures in all grant programs to ensure that the legislation is cost-effective.
Reauthorizing VAWA sends the message that survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking must have the tools to heal and reclaim their lives; that women and girls, our communities and our families, must be safe; that the next generation must be engaged in this effort—and that the evolution of our collective thinking on how to break the cycle of violence is a national priority. To send any other message is unconscionable.
Congress must act swiftly. Renew VAWA now.
Mariska Hargitay, star of NBC’S highly successful 14 season series, Special Victims Unit / Law and Order, is also founder and president of the Joyful Heart Foundation. Poore is policy chair at the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.