Leahy Commemorates 15th Anniversary Of Violence Against Women Act

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Tuesday released the following statement in recognition of the 15th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, which was signed into law in September 1994.  Leahy worked to reauthorize the law in 2000 and 2005.

Earlier this year, Leahy introduced legislation to help address the needs of domestic violence victims by strengthening the Violence Against Women Act.  The legislation, the Improving Assistance to Domestic and Sexual Violence Victims Act, was reported by the Judiciary Committee in May, and Leahy has been pushing for Senate passage of the measure.

In June, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the importance of the Violence Against Women Act.

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy,
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On the 15th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act
September 15, 2009

This week we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), one of our most powerful tools to combat domestic violence and other crimes perpetrated against women and families.

The enactment of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 marked an important national commitment to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.  This landmark legislation filled a void in Federal law that left many victims without the help they needed.   In commemorating this milestone, I would like to recognize the leadership of Vice President Joe Biden. His dedication to eliminating violence against women and families was vital to our success in passing the original legislation and subsequent reauthorizations. I am proud to have worked with him on this important matter for nearly two decades.

As a prosecutor in Vermont earlier in my career, I witnessed the devastating impact of domestic violence and sexual assault.  I saw how it affects people from all walks of life, regardless of gender, race, culture, age, class or sexuality. Our Nation has made remarkable progress since that time in recognizing that domestic violence and sexual assault are crimes, and we have responded with better laws, social support, and coordinated community resources.

Since the Violence Against Women Act became law, domestic violence reporting rates by women have increased by as much as 50 percent, and reporting rates by men have risen by 37 percent. At the same time, the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased by 24 percent for women and 48 percent for men. These are huge improvements and we should be proud of the work we have accomplished together.  There is, of course, more work to be done.  Millions of women, men, children and families continue to be traumatized by abuse, leading to increased rates of crime, violence and suffering.

Earlier this year, I chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing on the on-going importance of VAWA.  We heard from individuals around the country who shared with us the impact the law has had on their lives and the continuing need to strengthen it.  We have been hearing for some time about important steps we can take to enhance VAWA, which is why at the beginning of this year I introduced the Improving Assistance to Domestic and Sexual Violence Victims Act of 2009, a bill to make several needed corrections and improvements to VAWA.  Among other important changes, this bill would bolster privacy protections for victims of domestic violence and offer greater help in rural and tribal areas.  These improvements would ensure that the law is as effective and strong as it was intended to be and that it meets the needs of those it seeks to protect.  We were able to report this bill from the Judiciary Committee in May, but with an amendment that has complicated further progress.  

On this 15th anniversary, it is important that we pause to celebrate what we have accomplished. There is no doubt we have made great strides in reducing domestic violence and sexual assault, but we know more work remains to be done.  I look forward to working together with other Senators, the Obama-Biden administration, and experts in the field to ensure that VAWA remains a vital resource for prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, victim service providers, and, most importantly, the women and families who are threatened with violence and abuse.

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