Congress recently passed and President Obama signed bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act for another five years. Beyond being a bright spot in a divided Congress, this legislation helps to reduce the abuse that destroys families.
Throughout my time representing the interests of Idahoans, I have had the opportunity to visit Idaho shelters and attend briefings by local and state domestic violence abuse prevention advocates. Among these experiences is a visit to a safe house for children in Twin Falls County that I will never forget. During the visit, I met a couple of young children who were victims of child abuse. The lasting effects of abuse on their lives touched me deeply and galvanized my focus on abuse prevention.
Thankfully, progress is being made in reducing this violence. For example, the number of Idaho high school students reporting they have experienced dating violence has dropped by 5 percent from 2007 to 2011. However, many lives continue to be impacted by domestic violence. According to the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, since the beginning of this year, eight fatalities related to domestic violence have occurred in Idaho. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 1 in 4 women has been the victim of severe physical domestic violence, and 1 in 5 women has been raped in her lifetime. We must not let up in working to ensure victims, service providers and law enforcement have the tools required to combat these horrific crimes.
For this reason, I joined Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) in authoring the VAWA reauthorization legislation. This legislation will strengthen programs and policies meant to prevent domestic and sexual violence and ensure continued services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The law includes new and vital protections for all victims of domestic violence, seeks to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the country, provides needed assistance to law enforcement in prosecuting sexual assault crimes, and assists law enforcement in investigating human trafficking crimes by also reauthorizing for four years the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which expired in September 2011.
Mindful of our nation’s current fiscal problems, this legislation provides for the consolidation of programs to reduce administrative costs and avoid duplication. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act reduces authorized funding levels by more than $135, or 17 percent, from the law’s 2005 authorization. Additionally, new accountability measures will help ensure that VAWA funds are used wisely and efficiently.
The Violence Against Women Act was signed into law in 1994. It was reauthorized in 2000 and again in 2005, each time with bipartisan support. The law expired in September 2011. The recent reauthorization of VAWA was achieved because of the many advocates and victims of crime in Idaho and across the country who assisted in passing this critical legislation.
National statistics show that VAWA is working to reduce domestic crimes by a third. We must build on this progress, continue to have the most up-to-date protections in place and continue to advocate for the victims and agencies that assist those hurt by domestic and sexual abuse. Enactment of this legislation is an important step in ensuring we stay on course in reducing this abuse in our society.