Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin joined his fellow state and territorial Attorneys General in calling on the U.S. Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act ("VAWA") and ensure that vital programs working to keep women and families safe from violence and abuse continue uninterrupted.
"In the 17 years since Congress authorized VAWA, how we as a society view and prosecute domestic violence has changed dramatically for the better. However, each day in the United States three women are killed at the hands of an abusive partner. A great deal of work remains to be done," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "Reauthorizing this important Act will permit critical services to victims to continue uninterrupted and will allow new, targeted efforts to be developed in the areas where research shows we can have the most impact."
In 2011, the Office of Attorney General prosecuted nearly 800 domestic violence felonies. In addition, the Office has nine domestic murder prosecutions pending, including Matthew Komrowski who allegedly murdered his girlfriend Shirley Donnelly. "Too often we are reminded of the destruction and damage that domestic violence causes," continued the Attorney General.
In their letter to members of Congress, the Attorneys General note that since the initial passage of VAWA in 1994, the national response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking has been transformed. Crimes that used to be considered private, family matters to be dealt with behind closed doors have been brought out of the darkness and the results have been dramatic. But while rates of domestic violence have dropped by over 50% in the past 17 years, the issues addressed by VAWA are still very much at the forefront of the crime fight. Tragically, for every victim who loses her life to domestic violence, there are nine more who narrowly escape.
In 2011, Rhode Island received approximately $2.3 million in VAWA formula grants and direct funding for domestic violence prevention programs, including advocacy, training, legal services, housing for victims, and other critical programs to end domestic violence in Rhode Island.
Citing the need to maintain services to victims and families on the local, state, and federal level, the Attorneys General urged Congress to reauthorize VAWA for the first time since 2006. They note that reauthorization would not only allow existing programs to continue uninterrupted, but would also provide for the development of new initiatives aimed at key areas most in need of intervention.
These initiatives include:
Addressing the high rates of domestic violence, dating violence and sexual assault among women aged 16-24. Programs will work to combat tolerant youth attitudes toward violence and break the cycle in which women who experience abuse as teens are more likely to be victimized again as adults.
Improving the response to sexual assault across disciplines by implementing best practices, training, and communication tools among the healthcare, law enforcement, and legal services a victim encounters after an assault.
Preventing domestic violence homicides by enhancing training for law enforcement, advocates, and others who interact with those at risk. A growing number of experts and researchers agree that these homicides are predictable – and therefore preventable – if we know the warning signs.
The Attorneys General closed their letter to Congress by recalling that when VAWA was first passed in 1994, it was in recognition that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are pervasive issues affecting individuals, families and communities across the nation. They note that the progress that has resulted from strong federal support has been tremendous, but that the fight never ends. Reauthorizing VAWA, the Attorneys General say, will enable that progress to continue, building on the lessons we have learned along the way and saving countless lives.