Vi­o­lence Against Women Act needs to be fully reau­tho­rized

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - Spann is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Safeplace.


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-

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