Congress must seize the moment and reauthorize Violence Against Women Act
© Greg Nash

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is central to our nation’s effort to fight the epidemic of domestic, sexual, and dating violence, and stalking. We are now at a critical moment when zero tolerance for domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment must be the norm. The #MeToo movement has shown us the courage and strength of victims to step out of the shadows and hold their abusers accountable. As ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, I will soon be introducing legislation that authorizes and strengthens VAWA by investing in prevention, removing barriers and expanding access to include more protections for victims. Congress must continue sending the clear message that violence against women is unacceptable and stand with these courageous survivors when they come forward seeking help.

Enacted in 1994, VAWA provides grants that helps break the cycle of domestic violence. These vital resources save lives by assisting women, men and children as they flee abuse and heal from trauma. The grants also support training for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, service providers, and communities to provide comprehensive support to victims, hold offenders accountable, and keep our communities safe. Recent high profile cases of sexual assault and domestic violence have focused unprecedented attention on these crimes, led to more survivors to speak out, and have shown us why we must prioritize ending domestic violence and sexual assault.

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Prior to VAWA, law enforcement lacked the resources and tools to respond effectively to domestic violence and sexual assault. Each reauthorization of VAWA has improved protections for women and men, while helping to change the culture and reduce the tolerance for domestic violence and sexual assault. VAWA funded programs have provided victims with critical services such as transitional housing, legal assistance, and supervised visitation services. VAWA has led to increased reporting of sexual assault and increased ability of victims to flee abuse. It has also helped address the unique barriers faced by rural, elderly, and disabled victims. Despite these gains, much work remains to be done to address unmet needs and ensure all victims of domestic violence receive critical protections and services.

This is personal. In my district, nearly 4,000 requests for support from victims are turned away every year due to a lack of capacity at the largest provider, the Houston Area Women’s Center. When there are not enough resources, survivors’ requests for a safe place to live, legal representation, counseling and other supportive services go unmet every day. VAWA funds are critical to all of our communities. In Texas, the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s Domestic Violence Counts Census found that 6,627 victims were provided services in one day. Unfortunately, 999 requests for services such as emergency shelter, housing, transportation, childcare, legal advocacy, and more could not be provided because programs did not have the available resources. One survivor turned away from receiving life-saving services is one too many.

I am proud to lead the effort to reauthorize VAWA in Congress this year. I stand firm in my commitment to seize the moment and ensure that this historic legislation builds upon its promise of keeping victims/survivors safe and hold perpetrators accountable.

Congresswoman Jackson Lee is a Democrat from Texas’s 18th District. She is a senior member of the House Committees on Judiciary and Homeland Security and is ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.