03.07.14

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, on the One-Year Anniversary of the Enactment of the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Act

One year ago today, victims of violence, members of law enforcement and those committed to working against domestic and sexual violence celebrated the signing of the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Act reauthorization and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. It was an enormous accomplishment for a divided Congress, which came together to pass meaningful and historic legislation that protects all victims. Today, we honor those victims and survivors by renewing our commitment to our shared goal of ending domestic and sexual violence.

Our bipartisan effort last year is making lives better today.  The new nondiscrimination provisions we fought so hard to protect are ensuring that all victims, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have access to lifesaving programs and cannot be turned away. As I have said many times, “a victim, is a victim, is a victim.”  While some called for us to cast the most vulnerable groups among us aside and pass a watered down bill, I am proud that we held firm in our beliefs. This could not have been done without the leadership and commitment of Senator Crapo and Senator Murkowski, who fought within their caucus to preserve a fully inclusive reauthorization and stood with me in the Senate to protect all survivors. In the House, Congressman Tom Cole was a critical voice in calling for the particularly urgent need to address abuse on tribal lands. I thank them today, as I did one year ago, for their dedication and their partnership.

Every week, we are learning more about the impact of this important law.  Last month, the Department of Justice launched a pilot project in which three tribes – the Umatilla, the Pascua Yaqui, and the Tulalip - will begin to exercise their authority to prosecute non-Indian offenders who commit acts of domestic violence against an Indian on tribal land. Until now, non-Indian abusers were essentially immune from prosecution, a fact they would use to terrorize their victims. This new authority marks the beginning of the end of those days and is a watershed moment in our commitment to end the epidemic of violence against Indian women that has for too long been ignored.  We fought hard to ensure this provision remained in the bill and it will save lives. Attorney General Holder, Associate Attorney General West and Deputy Associate Attorney General Hirsch deserve praise for making careful implementation of the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Act a top priority.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was taking additional steps under our VAWA reauthorization to prevent the sexual assault and abuse of immigrants in our detention facilities. This was in response to a provision in the VAWA law requiring that all DHS facilities comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act to prevent sexual abuse and assault. There is still much work to be done to protect immigrant women and I look forward to continuing to work with DHS to ensure that they are doing all they can to protect those in their custody. I also remain committed to passing legislation to increase the number of U visas available for immigrant victims of violence. That powerful law enforcement tool helps keep all of us safe by encouraging victims to report criminals who pose a danger to our communities.

And yesterday, we heard about the impact services under VAWA have on victims—and how much more we must do. The National Network to End Domestic Violence, in their annual National Domestic Violence Counts Census, found that every day 9,000 service requests go unmet because of a lack of resources. This is not acceptable. Every day tens of thousands of victims turn to domestic and sexual violence services providers for support through emergency safe shelters, legal assistance, and child support groups, and we must do all we can to ensure these needs are met.

In my nearly 40 years in the Senate, few issues have meant more to me than passing an inclusive Violence Against Women Act. The law 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. I am proud of the work we did last year and I hope that a bipartisan Senate can come together this year to pass other, meaningful bills to support law enforcement and victims, like the Justice For All Act and the Homelessness and Runaway Youth Act.

 

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