Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The “Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act Of 2011”

As Submitted To The Congressional Record

Last Thursday, the Judiciary Committee approved the bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.  For almost 18 years, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been the centerpiece of the Federal Government’s commitment to combat domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  It has been extraordinarily effective, and the annual incidence of domestic violence has fallen by more than 50 percent since the landmark law was first passed.

As a prosecutor in Vermont, I saw firsthand the destruction caused by domestic and sexual violence. Those were the days before VAWA, when too often people dismissed these serious crimes with a joke, and there were few, if any, services for victims. We must not go back to those days. This law saves lives, and it must be reauthorized.

Senator Crapo and I introduced a moderate bill that incorporates input from survivors of domestic and sexual violence all around the country and the tireless professionals who serve them every day. This legislation builds on the progress that has been made in reducing violence against women, and it makes vital improvements to respond to remaining, unmet needs.

Unfortunately, partisan politics threaten to stop this critical legislation from moving forward. We have seen this same pattern too often. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and the Second Chance Act, both laws originally championed by Republican Senators and supported by Republican Presidents, are now suddenly unacceptable. This obstruction must stop. These programs are too important. They save lives.  They make our communities safer.

Nowhere is that more true than for the Violence Against Women Act. Certainly, helping survivors of domestic and sexual violence should be above politics.  The last two times VAWA was reauthorized, it was unanimously approved by the Senate. Now, this law, which has done more to stop domestic and sexual violence than any other legislation ever passed, faces Republican opposition. That is not right.

To those who suggest that this legislation creates too many new programs, I say that is simply not true. In fact, the bill reduces the scale of VAWA. It consolidates 13 existing programs and reduces authorization levels by nearly 20 percent while providing for only one small, additional program. The improvements in this bill are important but modest when compared to previous reauthorizations, which created many new grant programs and raised authorization levels almost across the board.

I have heard some say that our bill protects too many victims. I find that disheartening.  One thing I know from my time as a prosecutor, and I would hope it is something we can all agree on, is that every victim counts. All victims deserve protection. That is a message we have heard loud and clear from our states and something I hope is common ground.

More than 200 national organizations and 500 state and local organizations have expressed their support for this bill. Many of them have written strong letters urging swift passage of this legislation including the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, the National Association of Attorneys General, the National District Attorneys’ Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. I ask unanimous consent that a selection of those letters be inserted in the Record following my remarks.

This legislation has the support of five Republican Senators.  I thank Senators Crapo, Kirk, Murkowski, Brown, and Collins for their willingness to step forward and support the reauthorization of this landmark legislation.

This is the Violence Against Women Act. It should not be a partisan matter. I hope that all Senators will support this bill and that we can move quickly to reauthorize this critical legislation.  It is a law that has saved countless lives, and it is an example of what we can accomplish when we work together.  

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