Sessions is unqualified to be nation’s leading victim advocate

On the first full day of the 115th Congress, the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence --comprising state, local and tribal organizations and individuals who have fought for federal protections for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking since the 1990’s -- submitted a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging them to reject Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsIntercepts suggest Sessions discussed Trump campaign matters with Russia envoy: report Rights groups commend Trump for trying terror suspect in federal court NYT reporter, Dem senator go back-and-forth on Scaramucci coverage MORE’ nomination for the nation’s top law enforcement post.

Our letter reminds the Senate Judiciary Committee that they previously spurned Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship.  Sen. Sessions’ troubling record as both a top state and federal prosecutor, and his vote against the Violence Against Women Act of 2013, taken with his recent attempts to duck the question of whether the president-elect’s statements regarding grabbing women in the genitals without their consent constitutes sexual assault leaves us gravely concerned that he would not “vigorously or consistently,” enforce the protections of the Violence Against Women Act, including enforcing Title IX in our public schools and on our college and university campuses.

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We are also concerned that he would not act to enforce other civil rights laws and protect historically marginalized populations, including, “people who face discrimination because of their race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or other identities,” thus denying them equal protection of the law.

Concerned Women of America (CWA), in a column penned at the close of last year, attempted to suggest that, “Senator Sessions Will Fight for Women.” We have seen no evidence of this. To the contrary, Sen. Sessions opposed the most recent reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This legislation, broadly supported by victim advocacy organizations as well as seventy-eight senators, built on the tremendous success of VAWA’s 22-year history in providing a coordinated national response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

The 2013 reauthorization provided additional tools sought by advocates and survivors to:

  • Remove one of many barriers that prevent access to justice in domestic violence cases for American Indians and Alaska Natives,
  • Bar discrimination against LGBT survivors of violence,
  • Strengthen the ability of law enforcement to respond appropriately to immigrant survivors of violence; and
  • Step up the nation’s response to sexual assault including housing protections, prosecution resources and addressing the rape kit backlog.

These critical advancements reaffirmed VAWA’s commitment to serve all victims and survivors.

VAWA has been remarkably successful.  By reducing crimes and the subsequent costs to the criminal justice and health care systems, VAWA has realized critical cost savings including a significant reduction in domestic violence. Between 1994 (when VAWA was first enacted) and 2010, the homicide rate decreased by 64 percent.   Catalano, S. (2012, November). (Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/ipv9310.pdf.)

In its most recent reports to Congress on VAWA for services provided over a two-year period, the Office on Violence Against Women noted that over 40,000 survivors of sexual assault had been served by the Sexual Assault Services Program; Over 1.5 million bed nights in emergency or transitional housing had been provided to victims and their children through the Arrest Grant Program; and STOP grant funded programs had responded to 1.2 million hotline calls. VAWA is also critical to holding offenders accountable. In Mobile, Ala., where—before funding—domestic violence offenses were not tracked across municipal court systems, a VAWA Arrest grant was used to expand the courts’ database to include 20 counties in southern Alabama.

Like the Office for Victims of Crime, the Civil Rights Division and every other office of the Justice Department, the Office on Violence Against Women must be led by someone with a demonstrated history of and commitment to protecting the rights of crime victims --including survivors of domestic and sexual violence --challenging and rooting out discrimination, and fighting for justice for all. Regrettably, Sen. Sessions’ record, especially where fighting for fairness and protecting the rights of minorities are concerned, is woefully lacking. The National Task Force urges the Senate to reject his nomination swiftly.

The authors are the CEO of Just Solutions, and the Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Both are members of the steering committee of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (4vawa.org  @NTFSDV)

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.