Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the One Year Anniversary of Senate Passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

One year ago today, the Senate came together in the best tradition of the chamber to pass the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, with a strong bipartisan vote. It marked the culmination of years of collaboration with survivors and the victim services professionals who work with them every day.  It also marked an historic step to protect all victims, regardless of their immigration status, their sexual orientation or their membership in an Indian tribe. As I have said countless times on the floor of this chamber, “a victim is a victim is a victim,” and the bill the Senate passed one year ago today was a reflection of that truth.

In passing this historic VAWA reauthorization, the Senate showed that we still can act in a bipartisan way and put crime victims above politics.  Senators Crapo and Murkowski were steadfast partners in that effort and listened to the call from thousands of survivors of violence and law enforcement by supporting a fully-inclusive, lifesaving bill.

In the year since its passage, the important changes we made to the Violence Against Women Act have made lives better. The new nondiscrimination provisions included in the law are ensuring that all victims, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have access to lifesaving programs and cannot be turned away.  I was discouraged by the opposition of some to these inclusive provisions last year, especially when the research so clearly underscored the need to update the law to protect the most vulnerable populations. I am proud, however, that after all was said and done, we stayed true to our core value of equal protection and these provisions were enacted.

We also made vital improvements to the law to address the epidemic of violence against Native women.   Three out of five Native women have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners. On some reservations, Native American women are murdered at a rate more than ten times the national average.  Think about those statistics for a minute.  They are chilling. Native women are being brutalized and killed at rates that shock the conscience. We simply could not continue to ignore this ongoing and devastating violence, and I am proud that as a country we said enough.

A key provision in the Leahy-Crapo bill, now law, recognizes tribes’ special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indian offenders who commit acts of domestic violence against an Indian on tribal land. This provision also faced strong opposition by some but we held firm in the belief that a tribal government should be able to hold accountable those who commit these heinous crimes against its people on its land.  I was so proud when voices from around the country – Indian and non-Indian - joined our message that this was a VAWA to protect all victims and refused to give in. With their unified support, we beat back efforts to strip out this critical provision. That is why I was particularly pleased to see the launch of the new pilot project last week in which three tribes – the Umatilla, the Pascua Yaqui, and the Tulalip - will begin to exercise this authority we fought so hard to protect.  I ask unanimous consent that a recent Washington Post article highlighting this project be included in the Record.

Other key provisions of the new law include funding to help law enforcement and victim service providers reduce domestic violence homicides, including in my home state of Vermont.  It is leading to more investigation and prosecution of rape and sexual assault crimes and a greater focus on these issues on college campuses.  It is also helping eliminate backlogs of untested rape kits to help those victims receive justice and security promptly.

Unfortunately, one provision that was not included in the final VAWA bill was a modest increase in the number of U visas available to immigrant victims of domestic violence and other crimes. These visas are an important law enforcement tool that encourages immigrant victims to report crime, making us all safer. I reluctantly agreed to remove this provision and instead ensured its inclusion in the comprehensive immigration reform bill the Senate passed last year. As the House considers ways to move on that important issue, I urge them to include an increase in U visas so that all victims of domestic violence will be protected.

The Violence Against Women Act is an example of how the Federal government, in cooperation with state and local communities, can help solve problems.  By providing new tools and resources to communities all around the country, we have helped bring the crimes of rape and domestic violence out of the shadows.  There is much we can learn from that effort as we consider legislation that should similarly rise above politics.

After the Senate passed the bill last year, I mentioned a tragic incident that had just occurred.  A man shot and killed two women waiting to pass through metal detectors at a courthouse, where he was stalking another victim. Two male police officers also were struck by bullets but were saved by their bullet-proof vests. At that time, I urged this body to reauthorize the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program so that more of our law enforcement officials can be protected.  Sadly, a year later, that effort remains incomplete.

Before I came to the Senate, I spent years in local law enforcement and have great respect for the men and women who protect us every day. When I hear Senators say that we should not provide Federal assistance, we should not help officers get the protection they need with bulletproof vests, or that we should not help the families of fallen public safety officers, I strongly disagree.

In our Federal system, we can help and when we can, we should help.  That is what programs like the Violence Against Women Act are all about. Despite our different political perspectives, most of us came to the Senate with the goal of helping people. We must be able to find common ground to do that.  I hope that this body can again come together to protect the American people and support law enforcement like we did one year ago today when we passed the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. 

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