Leahy Remarks Hearing On “Renewing And Strengthening The Violence Against Women Act”

Thank you to Chair Durbin and Ranking Member Grassley for holding this hearing.  The Violence Against Women Act has been a bedrock of the Federal Government’s response to domestic violence and sexual assault since it was enacted in 1994, and it is certainly one of the most consequential pieces of legislation within this Committee’s jurisdiction. 

But with our evolving world comes the need to not only reauthorize this law, but to update and strengthen it as well.  In 2013, passing a strong, bipartisan Violence Against Women Act reauthorization was a top priority of mine as Chairman of this Committee.  I proudly partnered with Senator Crapo and we did just that – our bipartisan bill was cosponsored by a total of 62 Senators and passed the Senate overwhelmingly with 78 votes in favor.  And despite efforts by some skeptics to water down that bill to make it easier to pass, we stood by survivors and victim services professionals who called for legislation that would protect all victims—regardless of their immigration status, their sexual orientation, or their membership in an Indian tribe.

Unfortunately, I am far less satisfied with how the Senate has failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act since 2013.  Nearly two years have already passed since I joined with my friend, Senator Feinstein, in introducing the last reauthorization, which passed the House with a strong, bipartisan vote.  I am glad that under new Senate leadership this Congress, we seem to be working in a more diligent, bipartisan manner, and we are set to introduce a broadly-supported Senate VAWA bill very soon. 

But this is not about politics.  This is about listening to survivors and ensuring that those on the front lines working to prevent domestic and sexual violence have all the tools they need.  We must also acknowledge the incredible dangers and stresses that a nearly two-year COVID-19 pandemic has caused.  Social distancing pushed many survivors living with their abusers further into isolation.  Victim service providers are struggling to meet increasing housing and economic needs.  In short, the programs that VAWA supports make a real difference to these survivors and to their families.  We owe it to them to work together on this bill and introduce a strong, bipartisan bill without delay. 

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