Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz: The Violence Against Women Act

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Rep. Wasserman Schultz hailed the importance of the Violence Against Women Act on the eve of its 15th anniversary – which falls today, Sunday, September 13 – and what it has meant for America’s women. She also discussed legislation she introduced to make important improvements to the Act.

“On September 13, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act into law, as part of the Omnibus Crime Bill,” said Rep. Wasserman Schultz (FL-20). “Over these last 15 years, this Act has made major strides in making America’s women more safe and secure and better ensuring the victims of violence receive the services they need. Now, fifteen years later I’m working with my colleagues in Congress to improve the legislation for victims of violence.”

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was groundbreaking legislation that strengthened the nation’s response to the crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. This law has not only strengthened criminal laws and provided funding to improve the criminal justice system’s response to these serious crimes, it has also laid the groundwork for local coordinated community responses to end violence against women by bringing together victim advocates, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and the judiciary. In addition, the enactment of VAWA has led to a broader understanding that prevention of domestic violence is also a public health issue and health care professionals have also been brought in.

Rep. Wasserman Schultz is the lead House sponsor of H.R. 3401 the Improving Assistance to Domestic and Sexual Violence Victims Act of 2009, which will make important technical changes to VAWA that will improve the law’s implementation and the services we provide to victims. Among other important changes, this bill, which was drafted with the aid of victim advocates in the field who know best the many challenges victims face, will strengthen the privacy protections for victims of domestic violence by ensuring that private identifying information, including home addresses, are not listed on protective orders that are published on the Internet; ensure that more young victims of stalking and dating violence can avail themselves of youth-oriented services; increase the number of sexual assault nurse examiners, who provide expert testimony, proper evidence collection, and accurate documentation of injuries so vital to the successful prosecution of offenders; and give sexual assault victims greater peace of mind, by allowing offenders to be tested for HIV and sexually transmitted infection at earlier stages in criminal proceedings.

Since the passage of VAWA, there is increased awareness and understanding about the specialized needs of victims and recognition that education and training are required to effectively handle domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking cases. The number of domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and comprehensive service programs has increased significantly since the bill was enacted. With domestic violence shelters, VAWA funds have strengthened women and their families by providing the resources they need to courageously leave their batterers.

VAWA funds have become particularly critical over the last couple of years to ensure that vital services for domestic violence victims are funded at a time when state and local governments are experiencing budget crises.

The Department of Justice is launching a year-long celebration of the 15th anniversary of VAWA. It is using this occasion to raise public awareness of the many forms of violence against women and to support community efforts to assume responsibility for ending violence against women.

“The Violence Against Women Act ushered in a new era in response to violence against women,” Rep. Wasserman Schultz pointed out. “Much has been accomplished in the last 15 years, but the number of incidents of violence against women remains much too high. We must all rededicate ourselves to better protecting America’s women from violence, supporting survivors, and improving protections for victims in the Violence Against Women Act.”


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