USA: Senate Judiciary Committee Considers VAWA
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 3:18 PM

On June 10th the Senate Judiciary Committee heard expert witnesses speak on the effectiveness of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The expert witnesses, including Gabrielle Union, an actress, advocate and rape survivor, Office on Violence Against Women Acting Director Catherine Pierce, and Lindsay Ann Burke Memorial Fund President Ann Burke, testified that VAWA has been very effective in working to stop domestic violence and other violent crimes against women. VAWA assists law enforcement officers, prosecutors, courts, shelters and other various programs to prevent domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. In 2000 and 2005 VAWA was reauthorized, and it will expire in 2011.

Senate Juduciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) expressed the importance of the act in the opening of the hearing: "Since 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has been the centerpiece of the federal government's commitment to combating domestic violence and other violent crimes against women. Its passage and reauthorization were a signal achievement in support of the rights of women in America. This landmark law filled a void in federal law that had left too many victims of domestic and sexual violence without the help they needed." VAWA was enacted in 1994, and since then the rates of non-fatal and fatal domestic vioence have decreased and over 600 laws to fight these crimes have been passed in states around the country. The law is a key tool in helping police, prosecutors, health care providers and others heighten awareness of domestic violence as well as prosecute abusers and help victims.

VAWA is a big step towards ending violence against women and girls, but there is still a long way to go. Catherine Pierce, the Acting Director of the Office on Violence Against Women explained, "While VAWA has made a tremendous difference, we recognize that we have left some women behind, especially women of color...Every day, stories of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking remain in our headlines. This is unnacceptable." Pierce believes that the next version of the law should have more resources for victims of sexual assault in rural locations, programs that create better homicide prevention, and use more research to guide practice.

Compiled from: Key Senate Committee Considers VAWA, Family Violence Prevention Fund (22 June 2009).