When I think about the impacts of domestic violence, I think about a couple of young children I met years ago at a safe house in Twin Falls County.
I will never forget them. I have referred to them often as I have spoken and written about domestic violence. The effects of abuse on their lives touched me deeply and helped cement my focus on abuse prevention. We owe it to them and all those affected by domestic violence to keep moving forward in ending this abuse.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), originally signed into law in 1994, has helped Idaho nonprofits, governmental agencies and tribes provide life-saving services to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking victims and families in our communities. It has been reauthorized three times since, each time with bipartisan support. I was proud to serve as the lead Republican sponsor in the Senate, partnering with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), in the successful effort to renew the law in 2013 and increase access to assistance. The law is once again due to be reauthorized.
The reauthorizations of VAWA have been achieved because of the great work of many advocates and crime victims in Idaho and across the country who have worked against violence in our communities and assisted in passing this critical legislation. I serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee that held a hearing in March to consider whether changes to the law are needed as part of developing the next VAWA reauthorization. I had the opportunity to discuss with Katherine Sullivan, who leads the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, the success of consolidated services in Idaho enabling victims to access a range needed services under one roof. Principal Deputy Director Sullivan also detailed some of the reach of VAWA assistance:
- 124,916 victims on average are served every six months with victim advocacy and other supportive services;
- Nearly 1 million hotline calls are answered annually;
- More than 2 million housing and shelter bed-nights are provided annually; and
- 700,000 justice and healthcare professionals, victim advocates, educators, volunteers and others receive response training each year.
The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women attributes “factors facilitated by VAWA”, including changes in abuse acceptability and increased ability of victims to leave abusive relationships, to contributing to a 63 percent decrease in domestic violence between 1994 and 2012. Despite progress, we cannot let up. The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence reports that in 2016, there were 6,067 incidents of intimate partner violence and 2,063 incidents of sexual assault reported to law enforcement agencies in Idaho.
When designating April as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, the Administration described its development of the Sexual Assault Victim Intervention Services Technical Assistance Center as a new resource to provide intensive training and resources for comprehensive sexual assault victim intervention services. In addition, with my support, Congress recently passed and the President signed H.R. 1865, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, into law to help stop online sex trafficking and strengthen punishments against websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking crimes.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) affirmed that extending VAWA is the committee’s next priority. I look forward to the work ahead to extend this important law and further support victims, victim service providers, victim advocates, nurses, doctors, teachers, law enforcement, volunteers and others working to end abuse. You are making a difference in many lives and moving us forward in the effort to end violence.