Improved legislation regarding the Violence Against Women Act died in the House of Representatives during the last session of Congress, but local experts are imploring legislators in the new Congress to push for the change.
Kim Davis and Amy Weaver, directors for the Sexual Assault Center of Northwest Georgia and the Hospitality House for Women respectively, say that the VAWA has drastically improved the lives and conditions of the abused.
In 1994, when first authorized, the VAWA was a giant step forward for the nation, the directors said, because its passage meant the federal government acknowledged that domestic and sexual violence cause tremendous harm to our society.
The government invested real resources into helping victims and survivors and now millions of people, including children and families, are better off as a result, they said.
The Act increased options for victims and enabled many survivors to leave abusive relationships. It also improved the criminal justice system’s response to violence by training police and prosecutors to respond more effectively.
In 2000, Congress reauthorized VAWA, adding services for immigrant, rural, disabled and older women. In 2005, VAWA expanded to focus services on Native American women and immigrant women.
It included new programs focused on sexual assault victims, prevention, men and boys, and the needs of teen dating violence victims and child witnesses of domestic violence.
However, in the 112th Congress, Weaver said personal opinions and political biases infiltrated what could have been done to extend the legislation to protect everyone, regardless of race, creed and sexual orientation.
Each day in America, on average, three women are murdered by their husband or boyfriend, and one in four women will be endangered by an intimate partner at some point during their lives. Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, and one in six women will fall victim to sexual assault during their lifetime.
Locally, in 2012, the SAC of Northwest Georgia utilized VAWA funding to answer 557 hotline calls from victims of sexual assault within Floyd, Bartow, Polk, and Gordon counties, Davis said, adding that the SAC also performed 115 forensic rape exams.
Similarly, Weaver said the Hospitality House for Women answered 650 crisis calls from victims of domestic violence in Floyd county alone, and provided shelter or other services to 574 people — and that none of that would have been possible without the VAWA.
Davis said that without the funds the VAWA provides, the SAC would not be able to provide services to victims.
“The VAWA act has allowed the Sexual Assault Center to provide services to victims in a five-county service area and without those funds, women will no longer have a safe place to go after a rape,” Davis said. “Women deserve this right, this protection.”
Additionally, she emphasized that this issue affects men as well as women and children.
“This community needs to come together and call out the 113th Congress and let them know how important this is to us,” she said. “This isn’t just a women’s issue. Men — you have wives, daughters, sisters and mothers; you, too, need to be calling your legislators and begging for them to reauthorize the VAWA.”
Even though the protections of 2005 remain intact, there is so much work to do moving forward, both Weaver and Davis said.
“On behalf of the millions of victims and their families affected by domestic and sexual violence, we encourage you to support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act immediately during the 113th Congressional Session,” Weaver and Davis said in a joint statement.
“We publicly implore our outgoing Representative Phil Gingrey and our incoming Representative Tom Graves to make the right decision,” the statement continues. “With their leadership and cooperation, we can truly make a difference in the lives of adult and child victims of violence across the country and in our own community.”