Violence Against Women Act: A law that’s working

    On average, every day in this country, three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends, and more than 450 women are raped or sexual assaulted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 2 million domestic violence injuries to women each year.

    If those sound like grim statistics, they are. But those of us who work to prevent violence know it used to be a lot worse.

    Not very long ago, women who were battered in their homes or sexually assaulted had few options and little support. There’s been a sea change in our nation’s response. Today, police, courts, health care providers and others know more about how to help victims of domestic and sexual violence than ever before.

    We’ve trained police and law enforcement to understand and take the issue seriously, and we’ve put in place a system of shelters and social service agencies to provide support that can save lives.

    The reason is, plain and simple, the Violence Against Women Act. First enacted in 1994, this bipartisan law was championed by Sens. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah. Because of their continuing leadership, along with that of key supporters in the House of Representatives, the Violence Against Women Act has been reauthorized twice.  Those reauthorizations were enthusiastically signed into law by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

    There’s good reason so many lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle support the Violence Against Women Act. It funds a National Domestic Violence Hotline, which helps the nearly 240,000 women and men who call for assistance and referrals each year.  It funds shelters and programs in communities all across Wisconsin and the country.

    On any given day, the National Network to End Domestic Violence reports, more than 53,000 victims of domestic violence are being served by these programs, including more than 1,500 in Wisconsin.

    The Violence Against Women Act is working, but its work is not nearly done. While some 53,000 victims are being served by domestic violence programs each day, another 7,700 are being turned away because shelters are full or the services they need are not available.

    In Wisconsin, while programs aid more than 1,500 victims in a given day, another 250 requests for services cannot be met. At Sojourner Truth House in Milwaukee, over 17,000 calls were received on its crisis hotline, and over 650 victims in need of emergency shelter were turned away due to lack of available beds. There’s no question that domestic violence still claims too many victims, many of them young women, pregnant women, and mothers whose children are traumatized by the violence they witness.

    In addition to shelter services, legal advocacy for victims of domestic violence has been proven to be one of the most effective and essential tools to end the violence in their lives.

    Failure to address this need can contribute to abusers’ power to keep victims dependent on them and trapped in the relationship. We know that filing a restraining order can be an extremely dangerous time for victims and their children. Statistics show that 75 percent of domestic violence victims who are killed are murdered when they attempt to leave a violent relationship. The risk of increased violence makes filing a restraining order a critical decision for victims of domestic violence and reinforces the great need for our programming and importance of safety planning. The ultimate goal of legal advocacy and safety planning is to help the victim create a plan for ensuring safety, whether his or her decision is to leave the violent partner or remain in the relationship.

    The Task Force on Family Violence continues to provide legal advocacy services to over 6,000 families annually, representing more than 25,000 individual contacts with clients each year

    Let’s hope we can resist the urge to politicize this issue and instead agree that domestic and sexual violence are still huge problems in our country, that the Violence Against Women Act is a big part of the solution, and that even in these times of deficits, it should be fully funded. 

    The funding it provides will be more important than ever with so many families struggling to make ends meet, because victims of domestic violence have fewer resources with which to protect themselves and their children. We must ensure that the programs and services the Violence Against Women Act supports are there for victims who so urgently need them.

    Angela Mancuso is the executive director of Sojourner Truth House Inc. in Milwaukee. Carmen Pitre, executive director of the Task Force on Family Violence, and Esta Soler, president of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, contributed to this blog. For more information, visit www.endabuse.orgIf you or someone you know is in crisis in the Milwaukee area, call Sojourner Truth House at (414) 933-2722 or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE.

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