Senate passes act protecting women
Local victim advocates applauded last week's passage by the U.S. Senate of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.
Congress first passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 and was twice reauthorized. But it lapsed last year after Democrats sought to add protections for gays, lesbians and transgender people and expand authority of Native American officials to handle cases of abuse of Indian women by non-Indians. Republicans were also concerned over the inclusion of additional visas for abused illegal immigrants.
The measure expired in September 2011 when lawmakers failed to approve its reauthorization.
This year Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Michael Crapo (R-ID) reintroduced the legislation. Known as S. 47, the bill closely mirrors last year's proposed legislation. It passed the Senate on Feb. 13.
“We're excited because VAWA encourages coordinated response, which is what we provide,” said Diane Umphress, executive director of Amberly's Place, a crisis center in Yuma County.
“It's more support and enhances our program. It's a win-win for everybody,” she added.
VAWA provides for a coordinated community approach, improving collaboration between law enforcement and victim services providers.
According to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, these comprehensive programs not only save lives, they also save money. VAWA saved nearly $12.6 billion in net averted social costs in just its first six years, the task force reported.
Amberly's Place works with all law enforcement agencies in Yuma County. Victim advocates respond with officers to reports of sexual abuse and domestic violence assaults. At the scene, they comfort the victim and later walk them through the investigative process.
In their shocked, traumatized states, it's sometimes easier for victims to tell an advocate what happened, rather than an officer, who might appear intimidating, Umphress noted.
The result is a higher rate of prosecutions and a safer community, she added.
Yuma County Attorney Jon Smith said he was “pleased” with the bill's passage, calling it “progress.”
He noted that VAWA provides for STOP (Services, Training, Officers and Prosecutors) grants, which pay for forensic interviewers at Amberly's Place.
Since its original passage in 1994, VAWA has “dramatically enhanced our nation's response to violence against girls and women, boys and men,” according to the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV).
More victims report domestic violence to the police and the rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women has decreased by 64 percent, NAESV said.
“The sexual assault services program in VAWA helps rape crisis centers keep their doors open to provide the front-line response to victims of rape,” said Monika Johnson Hostler, NAESV president.
The bill is now headed to the House of Representatives, where a companion bill identical to the Senate legislation was also introduced last week. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ 3rd District) is firmly behind the bill, designated H.R. 11.
“There is simply no reason to hold up funding for domestic violence prevention. It's not an ideological issue. It has nothing to do with principle,” Grijalva said. “Let's get this done now before any more avoidable violence occurs.”
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.