WASHINGTON – The Violence Against Women Act expires in September,and advocates urged Congress to strengthen and reauthorize it during a committee hearing Tuesday.
Among the law's advocates were former Boston Celtics Coach M.L. Carr and actress Salma Hayek.
“We cannot tolerate a world in which one in three women is or will be a victim of domestic violence,” Hayek told the committee.
Hayek began to advocate against domestic violence after finding out a friend was being abused by her husband. Hayek said she tried but could not convince her friend to leave her husband.
“At the time,I considered that a personal failure,” Hayek said.
Last year,she joined the Avon Foundation campaign to speak out against domestic violence.
“We need to make sure that law enforcement and the courts hold every single perpetrator of domestic violence,dating violence,sexual assault and stalking accountable for their crimes,” Hayek said. “The Violence Against Women Act has done so much to meet this goal.”
Carr said the act pays for programs for children who have grown up witnessing violence and support for families at risk of violence.
“Our young people are witnessing violence,experiencing violence and in many cases growing up to perpetuate the same violent patterns found in their families and communities,” Carr said. “We must end violence before it starts. The new VAWA helps us to do that.”
Congress first passed the act in 1994 and expanded and reauthorized it in 2000.
The reauthorization includes several new provisions,including the first federal funding for rape crisis centers. The bill would also encourage bicultural and bilingual services,education and prevention programs for young people and assistance for victims of dating violence.
Sen. Orrin Hatch,R-Utah,said that before 1994,domestic violence and sexual assault were “underreported and under-enforced crimes. … I am convinced that the Violence Against Women Act has helped turn that around.”
Hatch was joined in endorsing the bill by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,Arlen Specter,R-Pa.,and by Sens. Joseph Biden,D-Del.; Patrick Leahy D-Vt.; and Jeff Sessions,R-Ala.
“The Federal government's efforts to reduce violence against women must continue,” said Diane Stuart,director of the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women. She said the rate of domestic violence has declined 59 percent in the last 10 years.
Funds from the act supported the enforcement of protection orders,legal assistance,intensive training and community education,Stuart said.
Lynn Rosenthal,executive director of the National Network to End Violence,said the act brought “the nature of this problem to light. … VAWA has provided victims with hotlines to call,shelters to provide safety,legal representation and advocacy.”
Rosenthal added,“VAWA organizations and agencies are helping to stem the tide of violence.”
While many groups support the act,others oppose it or suggest a different focus.
“We would like to see some improvements,like a focus on solutions,not just maintaining the status quo,” said Wendy Wright,senior policy director for Concerned Women for America. Wright suggested funding preventive measures such as pre-marital counseling.
“I think it's feminist pork,” said Phyllis Schlafly,president of the national pro-family organization,Eagle Forum. “Taxpayers' money is going in the hands of radical feminists who use it to preach anti-marriage and anti-male ideology.”