Violence Against Women Act needs to be fully reauthorized
violence claimed two more lives Dec. 1, as Austin native Kasandra Perkins was gunned down by her 3-month-old daughter’s father, Jovan Belcher, who then killed himself.
Kasandra’s murder made news because her boyfriend was a professional football player, but family violence hides in plain sight every day. Hundreds of Texas women and children are killed by family members each year, often after years of suffering emotional and physical abuse that leaves them broken and traumatized. The costs — in law enforcement, incarceration, hospitalizations and loss of productivity — run into billions of dollars each year.
Our nation responded in 1994 by passing the Violence Against Women Act. With that legislation, Congress created new federal stalking and firearms crimes, developed a process for legal relief for battered immigrants, established the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and authorized funds to support shelters and other services for survivors of abuse and sexual assault. It also began to develop a community response that involved law enforcement, prosecution, courts and victim services.
It was, for those of us on the front lines of this issue, a sea change, and it has allowed SafePlace to establish a number of innovative and successful programs to serve victims.
Thanks to money authorized by the act, SafePlace offers transitional housing to mothers and children. We have developed and implemented programs for people with disabilities, who often face additional challenges when trying to break away from abusive relationships. That funding helps us offer early childhood services and esteem-building activities for children who have been exposed to violence, either as victims or witnesses. The legislation also provides essential funding for a new SafePlace program, Planet Safe, which will provide a secure transfer and visitation spot for divorced families — a service that does not currently exist in Central Texas.
A report released last month by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed a stunning 64 percent drop in the overall rate of intimate partner violence since 1994. The evidence proves that the act is a resounding success.
This year’s appropriations could be the last, however, unless Congress moves very soon to reauthorize the act.
In the past 18 years, SafePlace has twice increased its capacity to provide safe haven to survivors. We now have 105 beds available for people who are escaping violent homes, and every night, each one of those beds is full, and there’s a waiting list in case space becomes available at the last minute.
The Senate passed the full reauthorization of the act in April, with bipartisan support. The act has the support of the National Sheriff’s Association, the National Association of Attorneys General, the National Fraternal Order of Police, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the American Bar Association, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and more than 300 other domestic violence, law enforcement, sexual assault, civil rights and religious organizations and associations.
The House passed a version in early May that is opposed by those same groups. The disagreement has to do with specific legal provisions for tribal populations and protection for the lesbian, gay and transgender community and undocumented immigrants. At SafePlace, we believe no one deserves to be a victim of domestic violence. That’s why, along with our colleagues on the front lines, we oppose the House version of the act.
Congress is scheduled to adjourn this week. If legislators leave town without taking action on the act, they will mothball a successful federal program.
Encourage House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, as well as your local representative, to reauthorize the full version of the act before they adjourn.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first freshman to win college football’s most prized individual award.
Mark Gillespie: Just goes to show how the voters are moved by meaningless offensive stats.
Kevin Murphey: Considering he out performed most running backs in the nation, I don’t think those are meaningless offensive stats. Maybe you’d prefer someone who plays ironman football and increases his chance of getting hurt by 30%? Be a true Texan and support the kid no matter where your loyalties lie.
Justin Stryker: @kevin. Since running backs are an obsolete position in the col-