Put victims before politics

Nearly six months ago, we joined together to introduce the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011. For almost 18 years, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been the centerpiece of the federal government’s commitment to combat domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. We are proud to have worked across party lines to ensure this important issue remains a priority for Congress and the country.

We are concerned, however, that politics threaten to get in the way of passing this critical legislation this year. Protecting every victim of domestic and sexual violence should be above politics, and we urge members of Congress from both chambers to set aside the political rhetoric and act swiftly to reauthorize this landmark legislation that has saved countless lives.

Since its initial passage nearly two decades ago, VAWA has proven to be a powerful tool in reducing violence against women by providing critical support to law enforcement agencies and services for survivors. The American Bar Association has called it the “single most effective federal effort to respond to the epidemic of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the country.”

Although we have made significant progress, domestic violence and sexual assault remain serious challenges. Every day, abusive partners kill three women in this country, and for every victim killed, there are nine more who narrowly escape. Approximately 1 in 3 adolescent girls is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse by an intimate partner, and 1 in 5 women will be raped in their lifetime. These numbers are staggering. It would be unacceptable to let politics interfere with our commitment to stopping this violence and abuse. 

The time to act is now.

Each time we visit a shelter or a crisis center in Vermont or Idaho, we are reminded of the real people whose lives are at stake in this effort. We cannot turn our backs on the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on these programs every year. We have seen their success in our own states. 

In Vermont, programs like Women Helping Battered Women and Umbrella provided critical services to more than 8,400 survivors last year alone. In Idaho, the number of high-school students reporting violence by a dating partner has dropped since the Center for Healthy Teen Relationships began its work in 2006. We have seen the evidence, and it is clear that these programs work.

No one knows the urgency of reauthorization better than the professionals in the field who dedicate their lives to helping victims all over the country. 

We have learned so much from their experiences, and we appreciate their efforts to help us understand the remaining unmet needs of the victims they serve, which made up the basis of our efforts to continue to make VAWA stronger and more effective. Supporting the work of these tireless advocates, and the victims they help, is our priority; it is far more important than any political agenda.

Reauthorizing this vital legislation is particularly important during difficult economic times. The economic pressures facing many Americans can pose additional hurdles in leaving abusive relationships. 

Active community networks are needed to provide support to victims in these circumstances, yet budget cuts result in fewer available services such as emergency shelters, transitional housing and counseling. Reauthorizing VAWA could not be more important than it is right now.

We have each seen firsthand the destruction domestic and sexual violence inflicts in the lives of its victims, and although we represent different political parties and come from very different states on opposite sides of the country, we stand together in our resolve to do all we can to end this violence for all victims. We know that no one is immune from these horrible crimes and that we have an obligation to pass legislation now.

Each prior reauthorization of VAWA has strengthened existing programs and received overwhelming bipartisan support. The Leahy-Crapo VAWA Reauthorization legislation builds on that strong foundation, and we will continue to work together across the aisle with the many like-minded members of Congress who support this cause. 

We are committed to passing a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that strengthens existing programs and provides protections for all victims and to doing so this year so we can get needed help to victims right away. 

We urge our colleagues on both sides of the Capitol to join our efforts.

Leahy is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Crapo is the senior senator from Idaho. They are co-authors of S.1925, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.