Thursday, February 28, 2013

VAWA... Still Needed 18 Years Later

Today advocates across the country breathed a sigh of relief as the House passed the Violence against Women Act, more commonly known as VAWA. Eighteen years ago then Senator Joe Biden coauthored VAWA, which  became law and ushered in initiatives to build community responses to aid victims of domestic violence, dating violence sexual assault and stalking. VAWA’s  impact has been unmistakable. One of VAWA’s largest discretionary initiatives is for Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies. This support has helped communities build responses systems to help victims and provide training and support so that law enforcement and prosecutors can hold offenders accountable.

In those 18 years the criminal justice response to domestic violence has improved greatly. Veteran police and advocates both remember when the police response to a domestic incident was to separate the parties until things could calm down a bit… now police have the tools and training to determine the primary aggressor and to arrest the abuser; holding offenders accountable  deters future violence and escalation of violence. Since VAWA was implemented there has been a 50% increase in reporting of domestic violence because victims are reaching out for help and a dramatic decrease in intimate partner homicides.

VAWA’s impact is best illustrated by a bumper sticker that still hangs in a dusty corner of our office.

ShameCRIME!   That shift in thinking was transformational. .. and it has saved lives. There’s still a lot of work to do though. I’m glad VAWA is still there to provide the resources we need.

Now I know some people have concerns that VAWA was implemented to reduce violence against women and the crimes VAWA addresses don’t only affect women. That's true. Men can be abused by an intimate partner. Men can be sexually assaulted or stalked. I don’t disagree. Male victims deserve the same access to support services and justice as female victims. At DVRC we provide services to both male and female victims … and we understand that it can be even more difficult for a male to seek support services or to report to the police because of stigma.  But women are more often the victims of sexual and relationship violence. VAWA hasn’t solely benefited women though. The changes VAWA has created improve our response systems and bring safety and support to all victims of relationship and sexual violence.

Let’s work toward an end to violence against women…and men… and children.

That’s my goal and DVRC’s vision for Saratoga County.

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