Over the past year, a much-needed light has been shed on the issues of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Due to the bravery of survivors sharing their stories, businesses, government agencies, and schools are implementing more effective policies to help prevent these horrific situations.
In the face of traumatic experiences, those in need are aided by programs supported by the Violence Against Women Act, also known as VAWA. First signed into law in 1994 with bipartisan support, VAWA lapsed following the prolonged government shutdown earlier this year. This left programs reliant on government funding in untenable positions. Without the reauthorization of VAWA, many domestic violence shelters and women’s organizations supported by this law would soon be forced to make difficult decisions that limit the services they are able to provide.
Needless to say, VAWA reauthorization demands the immediate attention of Congress.
Our bipartisan legislation, which we introduced last month, restores funding to this effective and impactful program while offering several new provisions that protect women, children, and men. In addition to reinstating STOP Grants, which are distributed between law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services, and courts to combat violent crimes, and expanding other grants that assist survivors, our VAWA proposal seeks to eliminate the root causes of sexual violence and harassment through comprehensive prevention education to students at colleges and universities throughout the country. This legislation funds programs to educate children about bullying and trafficking, train campus health centers to recognize and respond to violence, and engage men in violence-prevention strategies.
It also requires that the vast majority of appropriated VAWA funds go to states to combat sexual harassment using inclusive and culturally-sensitive measures. Moreover, it addresses the issues of bullying and cyberstalking to improve the physical and mental health of our children.
To see the tangible impacts of VAWA funds, we need look no further than our own districts and workplaces. In Bucks County, right outside of Philadelphia, there is just one shelter that services women and children in imminent danger of domestic abuse. While there is only room for seven families at A Woman’s Place, with the aid of VAWA funding, its staff credits the organization with saving nearly 150 lives just last year.
In South Los Angeles, the Jenesse Center helps hundreds every year. VAWA funding has supported the growth of Jenesse’s legal department, which provides direct legal services that not only assist survivors in securing immediate safety, but also help them achieve long-term goals of stability and self-sufficiency. VAWA funding is integral to Jenesse’s transitional, or “bridge,” housing program for survivors. After overcoming the initial crisis phase, people need space and time to rebuild family bonds, secure education and vocational training, and receive the mental health counseling needed to heal from trauma.
VAWA is not just benefitting organizations in Philadelphia or Los Angeles — it saves lives nationwide.
Now is the time for Congress to take action. When lives hang in the balance, enacting policy that protects our fellow citizens from violence must transcend political affiliation and ideology. We urge our colleagues in the House and Senate, along with the president, to work in a bipartisan manner to swiftly reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.