Citing bipartisan support in the vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin praised the United States Senate for taking action to continue providing support for victims of domestic violence. The US Senate approved to reauthorize VAWA, with new protections for Native Americans and those in same sex relationships, 78 to 22. The Act now moves to the House where a bitter bi-partisan battle threatens to derail passage.
"Since the enactment of VAWA in 1994, domestic violence and sexual assault have come out of the shadows and been subjected to the bright light of the justice system, advocacy groups and legislative efforts. Much progress has been made and recent nationwide statistics on the reduction in domestic and sexual violence are encouraging. But, a great deal of work still needs to be done," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "I urge Congress to reauthorize VAWA to allow these efforts at combating such violence to continue without interruption, and also provide for the development of new initiatives aimed at key areas most in need of intervention."
The Senate-passed VAWA includes new initiatives to address violence in teenage relationships, as well as improvements in the response to sexual assault across disciplines by implementing best practices, training programs and communication tools among professionals in the fields of health care, law enforcement and legal services. In addition, the Senate bill ensures that VAWA protects all victims, including those in same-sex relationships.
Attorney General Kilmartin praised Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse for their unwavering support of VAWA. "Senators Reed and Whitehouse have continued to provide real leadership on this issue, and I commend them for sending a clear message that this country does not tolerate domestic violence or sexual assault."
With the Act now before the US House, Attorney General Kilmartin sent a letter to Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi urging bipartisan support and a swift vote.
"I remain hopeful the House of Representatives will follow the Senate's lead to ensure that these essential services, which are at the heart of our nation's response to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence, continue. Law enforcement and prosecutors rely on this legislation, and victims desperately need the core services authorized by VAWA to keep them safe and help them heal," wrote Attorney General Kilmartin. "Reauthorizing VAWA will send a clear message that this country does not tolerate violence against women, and it will show Congress' commitment to reducing domestic violence, protecting women from sexual assault and securing justice for victims," wrote Attorney General Kilmartin.
In Rhode Island, the Attorney General's Office prosecutes nearly 800 domestic felony cases each year. These statistics represent but a fraction of the totals statewide. For every one case charged, there are several more violent acts against domestic relatives that are not brought to light, yet still have significant effects on victims and children of victims.
Rhode Island has made great use of the funds it has received through VAWA over the years in its efforts to address this scourge of violence. These funds go toward maintaining and improving the statewide system of support for victims of domestic violence and sexual violence through preventative programs such as advocacy, training, legal services and housing for victims, as well as prosecution of offenders through specialized prosecutors and improved training for police.
"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. There is still much that remains to be done," added Attorney General Kilmartin. "Reauthorizing this important Act will permit critical services to victims to continue without interruption, and will allow new, targeted efforts to be developed in the areas where research shows we can have the most impact."