Fresno Bee: Jim Costa: Congress must act quickly
February 19, 2013
Last week, the U.S. Senate took a major step in finishing what the last Congress left undone when it voted on a wide bipartisan basis to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. This previously enacted legislation that has now expired helped bring domestic violence out of the shadows and allowed our nation to address an issue far too many victims and survivors have battled alone.
Since the Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994, we have made great strides in reducing domestic violence. Non-fatal intimate partner violence has decreased 53%, and the number of women who have been killed by an intimate partner has dropped 34%. The legislation changed the way that law enforcement and victims' assistance programs responded to domestic violence and provided them with new approaches to protect the vulnerable.
As the co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Victims' Rights Caucus, ensuring that crime victims' advocates have the tools they need is one of my top priorities. They are on the front lines to provide survivors and their families with legal services and help them get back on their feet. They need our help to do the critical work of serving as a voice for those who have suffered.
Violence is not a far away issue that we can ignore; it is on our streets and in our classrooms and churches. Victims of crime are our sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers, and they deserve our help in the aftermath of a crime.
Here in our Valley, the demand for these services is staggering. In 2012, Mountain Crisis Services in Mariposa and Valley Crisis Center in Merced assisted more than 1,400 victims of domestic and sexual violence.
The majority of services provided are for non-residential help such as legal aid, individual counseling and children's support groups. However, longer-term housing assistance often is needed to give survivors and their families the time necessary to learn job skills, return to school and become financially independent.
Last year alone, the Marjaree Mason Center in Fresno provided emergency housing for more than 860 women and children. Programs under the Violence Against Women Act provide the center with funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Two-thirds of the 924 unmet requests for assistance in California during 2011 were for transitional housing, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. We cannot afford to roll back this program or stall its renewal when such a high need exists.
We have learned a lot from law enforcement and advocates since the law was enacted about what works and what does not. Congress now has a unique opportunity to build on the successes of the last 19 years by passing a reauthorization of the legislation that will add, rather than strip, protections for victims of domestic violence.
In the last Congress, the Violence Against Women Act became embroiled in a partisan charade that put politics first at the expense of vulnerable individuals.
Instead of expanding protections, it would have removed them for immigrant women, Native American women and other victims of domestic abuse. Protecting victims of domestic violence is not a political issue; it's about moral and human dignity.
It is my hope that these high-stakes games have now come to an end. It is time for Congress to show we can pass smart, bipartisan policies rather than party-line message pieces.
Now is the time to act. Renewing the law renews our promise that every victim has a safe place to turn in a time of need. The House must quickly adopt this measure and show that protecting victims is a top priority of this Congress.