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Advocating to end sexual and domestic violence

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Violence Against Women Act

Good News: VAWA and the Safer Act passed today.

Finally, all the work and advocacy for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the SAFER Act came to fruition as both bills passed the House today.  Both are now heading to the President to be signed into law.  Thanks to the many advocates around the nation who poured in their support through twitter, emails, phone calls, blogging, letters and visits to their representatives to send the message to pass these bills for the increased protection of victims of sexual and domestic violence.  It has been a long road getting VAWA reauthorized and the SAFER ACT passed. 

VAWA will extend protections to victims of violence and add new protections more specifically to LGBTQ victims, tribal victims and undocumented victims.  These provisions, although really a non-political issue and really ought to be nonpartisan, ended up in a partisan split and were hard fought to be passed.  VAWA was introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID).  It passed the Senate earlier this month but struggled with the House Republicans. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) was lead sponsor of the House bill. It renews dozens of anti-sexual violence and domestic violence programs, including funding for local services and training for law enforcement.  

The SAFER ACT will set in place provisions to eliminate the backlog of untested DNA evidence from unsolved rape cases and work faster to remove rapists from the community.   The bipartisan SAFER Act was led by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). It reallocates existing spending to ensure that more goes directly to testing cases. It also requires that states and cities that receive SAFER funds audit and publicly disclose their backlog for the first time.

This is exciting and a huge victory to not only get VAWA reauthorized but to have the proposed provisions added on for LGBTQ and Tribal victims of violence.  This work has been a uniting goal for the many national and state coalitions public policy staff over the last few years.  Global activisim events like One Billion Rising were also instrumental in raising awareness, educating the public on the issues, and organizing communities to act.  
  

VAWA is stalling in the House

It is unbelievable that the Violence Against Women Act is still in debate.  If over 20 House Republicans are supporting the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate, how is it that it still won’t go through?  How can Republicans halt this non-partisan issue and historically bipartisan bill and still feel good about representing their constituency?

For those who are focusing on this issue for the first time, the reauthorization of VAWA was allowed to defunct.  The bill this year is asking for it to be reestablished and added provisions that address concerns and gaps still in existence.  These additions are not really new but rather adding a defined focus to groups of women who are even more marginalized and at risk for violence:  undocumented victims of domestic violence, LGBTQ victims of violence, and Native American victims of violence.  What the House Republicans are specifically objecting to are that; the bill increases the number of visas available to undocumented victims of domestic violence, the bill proposes to deny grant money to organizations that discriminate against LGBT victims of domestic violence, and the bill allows Native American tribal courts to prosecute non-tribe members who are accused of abusing their Native American partners.

The Senate did address one item in advance of sending it to the Hill: Senate Democrats removed the section of the draft VAWA that would have granted more visas to undocumented victims of domestic violence who cooperate with police against their abusers.  Republicans are charging that increasing the number of visas available would lead to fraud; although it is clear that law enforcement determines whether an individual has been helpful in an investigation and is therefore eligible for such a visa.  The clarification of what fraud would happen is not clear.  The National Congress of American Indians has stated that these changes (requiring the tribal courts to gain permission of the US attorney general before prosecuting a non-member) make it harder to prosecute non-tribe members and harder to protect victims of violence.  Additionally, the protections that have been in place up to now (courts can issue civil protection orders) will now have additional barriers in place to request and process these protection orders, by requiring a that a criminal threshold be met in order to exercise civil authority.  The National Congress of American Indians opposes this an unnecessary burden placed on tribal courts and an increased barrier to prosecuting perpetrators for victims.

However, this compromise was made and it passed the Senate with 78 votes.  Even with this compromise, House Republicans are still not willing to support reauthorizing protection for victims of domestic violence.  And they still are failing to fully protect under-served survivors who identify as LGBTQ by removing “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the list of populations who encounter barriers to services and failing to require grant funded programs to provide their services to every victim of violence, regardless of orientation and/or identity.  To further negatively impact LGBTQ victims of violence and increase their barriers to services, the bill excludes the LGBTQ community from the largest VAW grant program, STOP.  (The Centers for Disease Control has found that same-sex couples experience domestic violence at the same rates as heterosexual couples.)

Help us get VAWA passed to ensure protection for all victims of domestic violence.

The Violence Against Women Act Dies…. Did one person kill it?

Apparently The Violence Against Women Act died last night.  How could this happen?  How does a country founded on freedom and equal rights continue to deny that very thing to certain people?  How can House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have supported such a bill while he was seemingly working to support other non-partisan efforts.

For those just tuning in, one of the items up for consideration at the conclusion of the 112th Congress was the Senate bill reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, otherwise known as VAWA.  This act was originally passed in 1994.  This time when it came up for renewal, the Senate version had newly added tribal protections for American Indian women, granting tribes limited authority to prosecute sexual-assault crimes on their lands–whether the crimes are committed by American Indians or not.  Eric Cantor campaigned against this version of the bill.  Instead, Cantor offered up a version which excluded the new American Indian protections, along with those for undocumented immigrants as well as lesbian and trans women, which the House passed.

Eric Cantor did not offer up any reasons for his actions to deny every woman in America the same legal protections against violent perpetrators.   When MSNBC reported this story, they listed the following quotes:

  •  In December on Melissa Harris-Perry, National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill said the fight was “draining the resources of the advocacy groups that have been working on re-authorization for two solid years. Many of the advocacy groups also provide services; their resources are being drained. I don’t think that’s a mistake.”
  • The chief Democratic advocate for the VAWA reauthorization, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, released a statement that was reported in Jezebel:  “The House Republican leadership’s failure to take up and pass the Senate’s bipartisan and inclusive VAWA bill is inexcusable. This is a bill that passed with 68 votes in the Senate and that extends the bill’s protections to 30 million more women. But this seems to be how House Republican leadership operates. No matter how broad the bipartisan support, no matter who gets hurt in the process, the politics of the right wing of their party always comes first.”

Can a representative for the people, and the GOP,  really be so indifferent to the rights of women?  Is what O’Neill suggested, a desire and plan to exhaust advocacy groups and their resource, really true?  Why be determined to so actively block equal protections for only certain groups of women: Native American, Undocumented Immigrants, and those who identify as Lesbian and Transgender?   Don’t you want to demand an explanation?

Feel free to contact his office and ask. http://cantor.house.gov/contact

Reject Immigration-related bills that threaten access to safety for victims of sexual and domestic violence

Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month

February marks the second annual Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Teen Dating Violence received national attention during the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2005.  The goal of this month is to shine a light on abuse in teen relationships and focus our energy towards prevention efforts.


 

Two years ago 19-year-old Siobhan Russell was found brutally stabbed to death by her 17-year-old boyfriend in Oak Hill, Virginia. In 2010, Siobhan’s abuser was arrested and sentenced to 40 years in prison. After living through this horrific event, Siobhan’s mother was determined to do all that she could to prevent other acts of abuse and violence. She now runs an organization to raise awareness about teen dating violence, where she speaks to communities about the warning signs of dating violence. She is an example for us all.

February is National Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month and it is critical that we take this time to remember that domestic violence is not just a problem for adults. One in three adolescents in the US will be a victim of physical, emotional or sexual abuse from a dating partner. Nearly 80% of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser. And two-thirds of teens who are in an abusive relationship never tell anyone about the abuse. It’s time to shine a light on this issue.

Recognizing abuse in a relationship can be difficult, especially for teens. There are many types of abuse that young people may believe are normal in a relationship. Even though teen relationships may be different from adult relationships, teens can experience the same types of abuse. Teens also face unique obstacles if they decide to get help. They may not have money, transportation or a safe place to go. They may also concerns about confidentiality with many adults obligated to make reports to police, parents and/or child protective services.

But, teens have a right to safe and healthy relationships. Your community, should take the lead in raising awareness and preventing teen dating violence. There are many ways that you can take part:

  • Encourage legislators to introduce laws that require teen dating violence education in the classroom. Teens spend the majority of their time in school or at school-related activities and without laws in place to protect them, domestic and sexual violence among teens will continue to cause upheaval at home and at school. Encourage school leaders to step up if legislators will not and offer to pay the often small fees (less than $100) for effective dating violence prevention curricula.
  • Know the laws in your state. Unfortunately, Virginia rates F on the national dating violence grade, [available online at http://www.breakthecycle.org/content/teen-dating-violence-state-law-report-cards%5D
  • 

  •  Take the time to educate yourself and others about teen dating violence. The following websites offer information about teen dating violence and what you can do to help:

Like Siobhan’s mother, you can make a difference.

Lobby Day for Sexual and Domestic Violence Victims

Today is lobby day for our industry.  I’m heading down to the General Assembly to advocate.  I like doing  this every year.  The energy of everyone running around, trying to get appointments in, trying to meet people, trying to educate legislators and their staff on our issues.  This year it’s:

Protect funding for sexual and domestic violence services from further cuts.  In the past year, Virginia cut funding for sexual violence services by 5%, domestic violence services by 8%, and homlessness intervention services by 8%.  We need to protect and preserve these critical services.

2. Support: HB 2422 & SB 1364 – Expand access to Protective Orders for victims of dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault.  Address and name dating violence in the Code of Virginia and allow equal access to court-ordered protection for all victims of certain defined acts of violence and threatening behaviors, to prevent further acts of violence, trespass, or contact.

3.  Support: HB 1757 & SB 1199 – Extend the Address Confidentiality Program within the Office of the Attorney General to make it statewide.

4.  Oppose HB 1420, HB 1421, HB 1430, HB 1934 & HB 2332 – Oppose legislation that threatens acces to safety for any victim of sexual and domestic violence.  Oppose these house bills and preserve access to services for ALL victims of sexual and domestic violence in Virgnia, regardless of their immigration status.

Victims of sexual and domestic violence and their children must be able to access safety, including law enforcement, the courts and protections available through the Violence Against Women Act, without regard to their immigration status.

Support: HB 1476 & SB 1145 – extend limitations period for actions for sexual abuse committed during teh infancy or incapacity of the abused person from two years to 8 years from the time of removal from infancy or incapacity or from the time the cause of action otherwise occurs.

Support HB 1893 – Abduction; provides that any person who, without legal justification or excuse, recruits, entices, solicits, seizes, takes, transport, detains a child under 16 years of age, for the purpose of concubinage or prostitution, is guilty of a Class 2 felony, and that the person who assists or aids in such activity or threatens to do so is guilty of a Class 5 felony, and that the abduction of any person 16 years of age or older for the person of concubinage or prostitution is punishable as a Class 4 felony.  The bill also provides that any person who causes another person to engage in forces labor or services in violation of abduction laws is guilty of a Class 4 felony.

Support HB 1898 – Commercial Sex Acts with Minors; expands teh definition of abduction to include commercial sexual activity involving minors and for purposes of sexual activity with a minor to also include pornography and sexual performances.

Support HB 2440 – Provides for an affirmative defense to the crime of prostitution when the person arrested or charged was induced to engage in prostitution through the use of force, intimidation, or deception by another.  The bill also provides for the expungement of a prostitution charge when the person was induced to engage in prostitution through the use of force, intimidation, or deception by another.

Virginia’s 2011 Legislative Action Day

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 – is Legislative Action Day.  Join the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance as they promote important legislative items during the General Assembly session.  

Please join with the Action Alliance and your local rape crisis and domestic violence centers to contact your local legislators about the issues below: 

1. Protect funding for sexual and domestic violence services from further cuts.  In the past year, Virginia cut funding for sexual violence services by 5%, domestic violence services by 8%, and homlessness intervention services by 8%.  We need to protect and preserve these critical services.

2. Expand access to Protective Orders for victims of dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault.  Address and name dating violence in the Code of Virginia and allow equal access to court-ordered protection for all victims of certain defined acts of violence and threatening behaviors, to prevent further acts of violence, trespass, or contact. 

3.  Extend the Address Confidentiality Program within the Office of the Attorney General to make it statewide.

4.  Preserve access to services for ALL victims of sexual and domestic violence in Virgnia, regardless of their immirgration status.  Victims of sexual and domestic violence and their children must be able to access safety, including law enforcement, the courts and protections availalbe through the Violence Against Women Act, without regard to their immigration status. 

If you have any questions, please contact Kristine Hall at khall@vsdvalliance.org  or Gena Boyle at gboyle@vsdvalliance.org  or call 804-377-0335.

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