Leahy: Republican VAWA Proposal Fails To Meet Unmet Needs Of Victims

Full Statement for the Record, As Prepared For Delivery

There are few tools more important in the fight to end domestic and sexual violence than the Violence Against Women Act. This landmark legislation has fundamentally changed the way society views these horrible crimes, and it has resulted in a more than 60 percent decrease in domestic violence offenses. We have been successful because we have learned from experience and adapted our efforts to better meet the needs of victims. Each reauthorization of VAWA has played a critical role in this process. As we learn more about the needs of victims, VAWA has been carefully modified to meet those needs.

The bipartisan bill that Senator Crapo and I introduced last year continues that important process. The Republican substitute amendment does not. 

The Leahy-Crapo bill is based on months of work with survivors, advocates, and law enforcement officers from all across the country. We listened when they told us what was working and what could be improved. We took their input seriously, and we carefully drafted our legislation to respond to those needs.

We made additional modifications and reached carefully crafted compromises thorough what was an open process. We also shared our draft with Senators from both sides of the aisle and proceeded openly to introduce the bill so that it could be reviewed and improved as the Judiciary Committee considered and voted on it.  

Senator Crapo and I purposely avoided proposals that were extreme or divisive and selected only those proposals that law enforcement and survivors and the professionals who work with crime victims every day told us were essential.  Our reauthorization bill is supported by more than 1000 Federal, state, and local organizations.  They include service providers, law enforcement, religious organizations, and many, many more.  There is one purpose and one purpose only for the bill that Senator Crapo and I introduced, and that is to help and protect victims of domestic and sexual violence.  Our legislation represents the voices of millions of survivors and their advocates all over the country.

The same cannot be said for the Republican proposal brought forward in these last couple of days.  That is why the Republican proposal is opposed by so many and such a wide spectrum of people and organizations.  I ask consent to include in the Record letters of opposition from some of them. 

The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, which represents dozens of organizations from across the country says: “The Grassley-Hutchison substitute was drafted without input or consultation from the thousands of professionals engaged in this work every day.  The substitute includes damaging and unworkable provisions that will harm victims, increase costs, and create unnecessary inefficiencies.”  Although well-intentioned by its lead sponsors, the Republican proposal is no substitute for the months of work we have done in a bipartisan way with victims and advocates from all over the country.

I regret to say that the Republican proposal undermines core principles of the Violence Against Women Act.  It would result in abandoning some of the most vulnerable victims and strips out key provisions that are critically necessary to protect all victims – including battered immigrants, Native women, and victims in same sex relationships. The improvements in the bipartisan Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act are gone from the Republican proposal.  It is no substitute and does nothing to meet the unmet needs of victims.

The Republican proposal fundamentally undermines VAWA’s historic focus on protecting women.  It literally calls for removing the word “women” from the largest VAWA grant program.  Women are still victimized at far higher rates, and with a far greater impact on their lives, than men.  According to a 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control, nearly one in five women have been raped at some point in their lives compared to one in 71 men, while nearly 25 percent of women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner compared to a much lower percentage of men. We must protect male victims, and in our Leahy-Crapo bipartisan bill, we do.  But shifting VAWA’s focus away from women is unnecessary and harmful. The Republican proposal would send a terrible message.  There is no reason to turn the Violence Against Women Act inside out and eliminate the focus on the victims the bill has always been intended to protect.  Our Leahy-Crapo bipartisan bill, by contrast, does not eliminate the focus on violence against women, but increases our focus to include all victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. 

The Republican proposal strips out critical protections for gay and lesbian victims.  The rate of violence in same sex relationships is the same as the general population, and we know that victims in that community are having difficulty accessing services. To strip out these critical provisions is to turn our backs on victims of violence. That is not the spirit of VAWA.  That is the opposite of what we do in the bipartisan Leahy-Crapo legislation.  Our legislation has the support of law enforcement, of victims, and of the advocates and professionals who work on these matters every day. We understand that a victim is a victim is a victim, and none of them should be excluded or discriminated against.  The Republican proposal would extend and institutionalize that discrimination.  The Republican proposal should be rejected.

The Republican proposal also fails to adequately protect Tribal victims. Domestic violence in tribal communities is an epidemic.  Four out of five perpetrators of domestic or sexual violence on Tribal lands are non-Indian and currently cannot be prosecuted by tribal governments.  If you need more convincing of this problem, listen to the senior Senator from Washington and the Senator from New Mexico who have spoken so compellingly to the Senate about these concerns and who strongly support the provisions in the bipartisan Leahy-Crapo bill. 

The Republican proposal is no real alternative to fix the jurisdictional loophole that is allowing the domestic and sexual violence against Native women to go undeterred and unremedied.   Its proposal offers a false hope, a provision that purports to allow a tribe to petition a Federal court for a protective order to exclude individuals from tribal land. It does not even allow the victim herself to request the order, and it does nothing to ensure that a violent offender is held accountable.  This is a false alternative.  It is not what the Justice Department has suggested.  It is not what the Indian Affairs Committee has supported.  It will do next to nothing and is no answer to the epidemic of violence against Native women.

The Republican proposal also abandons immigrant victims and disregards law enforcement requests for additional U visas, a law enforcement tool that encourages immigrants to report and help prosecute crime.  To the contrary, the Republican proposal would add dangerous restrictions on current U visa requirements that could result in that tool being less effective.  The U visa process already has fraud protections.  For law enforcement to employ U visas, law enforcement officers must personally certify that the victim is cooperating with a criminal investigation. The new restrictions the Republican proposal seeks to add will discourage victims from coming forward and will hinder law enforcement’s ability to take violent criminals off the street.

I will be offering an amendment to offset the minimal additional costs associated with our increasing the number of U visas that can be used.  With that amendment the bipartisan Leahy-Crapo bill will not “score” and will be deficit neutral.

The Republican proposal also would add burdensome, unnecessary and counterproductive requirements that would compromise the ability of service providers to maximize their ability to reach victims.  In contrast, the bipartisan Leahy-Crapo accountability provisions ensure the

appropriate use of taxpayer dollars without unnecessary regulatory burdens.  It is all the more ironic that the Republican proposal would add massive, new bureaucratic requirements to service providers  who are understaffed and operating on shoestring budgets like most small businesses and nonprofits. These requirements are unnecessary and would add significant costs to victim service providers, undercutting their ability to help victims.

The Republican proposal goes so far as to require the already overburdened Office of Inspector General to conduct more than 100 additional costly and time consuming audits per year without any indication of a need for so many audits—and this mandate is imposed without any additional funding or resources. It is easy to call for audits and investigation, but without proper resources and focus, such demands could be counterproductive and lead to decreased accountability.  The bipartisan Leahy-Crapo bill, by contrast, includes targeted accountability provisions.

I have said for months, since we started the process of drafting this legislation, that the Violence Against Women Act is an example of what the Senate can accomplish when we work together. I have worked hard to make this reauthorization process open and democratic. Senator Crapo and I have requested input from both sides of the aisle, and we have incorporated many changes to this legislation suggested by Republican as well as Democratic Senators. 

While I have been willing to accommodate improvements to this legislation from day one, I have also been clear that I will not abandon core principles of fairness. Regrettably, that is what the Republican proposal would result in doing.  It would undermine the core principle of VAWA to protect victims – all victims – the best way we know how.  Our bill is focused on VAWA and improvements to meet the unmet needs of victims. 

It is not a catch-all for all proposals for criminal law reform, for sentencing modifications.  There are other bills and other packages of bills that we are working on and hope to pass this year.  Some of these proposals are from those bills.  There could be a Senate debate about whether mandatory minimum sentences are good policy or whether the proposed criminal provisions in the Republican proposal make sense.  That would be a long debate with strongly held views.  That is not what the Violence Against Women Act is about.  We should not complicate passage of this bipartisan measure with such matters beyond the scope and purpose of the bill.  Such debates are for another time and other bills.

I urge all Senators to join together to protect the most vulnerable victims of violence, including battered immigrant women assisting law enforcement, Native American women who suffer in record numbers, and those who have traditionally had trouble accessing services.  A victim is a victim is a victim.  They all deserve our attention and the protection and access to services the bipartisan Leahy-Crapo bill provides.  The path forward is to reject the Republican proposal, which is no alternative to the bipartisan Leahy-Crapo bill.  Let us move forward together to meet the unmet needs of victims.

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