Last month, as the battle raged to pass the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the United States Senate, over 150 women, men, and children were killed in this country in domestic violence related incidents. The deaths included police officers killed responding to domestic violence incidents and officers killed by men with a history of violence against women. Indeed, more people died in domestic violence related murders last month than did American soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan. No one questions our responsibility to do everything possible to protect American soldiers in combat but partisan politics were still on display in the battle to pass VAWA in the U.S. Senate.
As I write this, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is now awaiting passage in the House of Representatives. The Senate finally passed the Act but now we await action by the House. Their responsibility is very simple really. Pass the Violence Against Women Act and send it to the President for his signature. Some Republicans appear to be posturing and are proposing a different version of the Act to reduce funding and take out provisions they do not like around protecting victims in same sex relationships, victims on tribal lands, and undocumented immigrant victims. I urge the Republicans not to do it. Women, children, and men die when we play politics with domestic violence prevention efforts.
The Violence Against Women Act, since being passed in 1994, has never been a partisan battle. Republicans and Democrats have always come together to stand united against domestic violence, elder abuse, stalking, and sexual assault. Leaders with integrity must advocate for such a bi-partisan approach again.
Over the last 18 years, all of us working to stop domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking have seen firsthand the amazing successes of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Having handled these cases before and after VAWA, it is clear to me that VAWA changed the face of our national response to violence against women, men, and children. We have made amazing progress but women, men, and children are still dying. Millions of women, men, and children are still being abused and we must stand in solidarity and continue striving to stop intimate partner violence in this country. No one who truly supports public safety in our communities should be opposed to the re-authorization of VAWA.
While those of us working in the domestic violence movement enthusiastically support the entire VAWA, including the key provisions around support for shelters, tribal services, assistance for children exposed to violence, and civil legal services, I want to focus on the most important section of VAWA for stopping criminal offenders. Most of this work is connected to the Title I, Grants to Encourage Arrest Program and Enforcement of Protection Orders Program. VAWA reauthorization will help us stop the domestic terrorism that continues to take lives and destroy families across this country.
The Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders Program (Grants to Encourage Arrest Program) has been a critical, central piece of the Violence Against Women Act since it was passed by Congress in 1994. The Program has focused on enhancing the criminal justice system response to domestic violence and sexual assault by funding specialized domestic violence units in prosecutors offices and law enforcement agencies, coordinated community response initiatives, Family Justice Centers, and other specialized initiatives designed to increase accountability for criminal domestic violence and sexual assault offenders and increase safety for victims of abuse and their children. Congress’ support for this program has saved many lives! No member of Congress should step back from this success now.
The Grants to Encourage Arrest Program has been reviewed regularly since 1996 and the effectiveness of programs that receive funding has been well documented. Undisputed outcomes from Grants to Encourage Arrest Program-funded policies and programs include:
• Arrest and prosecution of offenders deters future abuse (Maxwell, C., Garner, J. and Fagan, J. (2001). The Effects of Arrest on Intimate Partner Violence: New Evidence from the Spouse Assault Replication Program, National Institute of Justice Research in Brief, Washington D.C.:U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, NCJ 188199);
• Specialized domestic violence units in law enforcement agencies produce better on-scene investigations, better follow up investigations, and higher filing rates for misdemeanor and felony cases (Townsend, M., Hunt, D., Kuck, S. & Baxter, C. (2006). Law Enforcement Response to Domestic Violence Calls for Service, Washington D.C.:U.S. Department of Justice, 99-C-008 National Institute of Justice, NCJ 215915; See also Klein, A. (2008) Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research);
• Specialized prosecution units result in increased conviction rates, greater accountability and monitoring of offenders, reduced recidivism, and increased community collaboration (See Gwinn, C. & Strack, G. (2006) Hope for Hurting Families: Creating Family Justice Centers Across America, Volcano Press, Chapter 7, pp. 91-118; Ford, D. & Breall, S. (2001) Violence Against Women: Synthesis of Research for Prosecutors); Smith, B., Davis, R., Nickles, L. & Davies, H. (2001) An Evaluation of Efforts to Implement No-Drop Policies: Two Central Values in Conflict, American Bar Association);
• Coordinated community response efforts increase victim safety, reduce violence and abuse, and increase efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery (Gamache, D., Edleson, J., & Schock, M. (1988). Coordinated Police, Judicial and Social Services Responses to Woman Battering: A Multi-Baseline Evaluation Across Three Communities. In G. Hotaling, D. Finkelhor, J. Kirkpatrick & M. Straus (1989) (Eds.) Coping with Family Violence. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage);
• Family Justice Centers and other multi-agency, co-located service delivery models have resulted in: reduced homicides; increased victim safety; increased autonomy and empowerment for victims; reduced fear and anxiety for victims and their children; reduced recantation and minimization by victims when wrapped in services and support; increased efficiency in collaborative services to victims among service providers; increased prosecution of offenders; and dramatically increased community support for services to victims and their children through the family justice center model (Family Justice Center Overview; See also Gwinn, C. & Strack, G., Dream Big: A Simple, Complicated Idea to Stop Family Violence (2010) (Wheatmark)); Strack, G. & Gwinn, C., Dream Big, Start Small: How to Start and Sustain A Family Justice Center (2012).
• Coordinated law enforcement services coupled with strong, empathetic treatment of victims when they seek help encourages future reporting and enhances accountability for repeat offenders (Friday, P., Lord, V., Exum, M. & Hartman, J.) (2006). Evaluating the Impact of a Specialized Domestic Violence Police Unit. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, 2004-WG-BX-0004, National Institute of Justice, NCJ 215916;
Let me say it again: No one truly committed to public safety in America should be opposing the reauthorization of VAWA. Indeed, VAWA is the foundation upon which public safety is built because in America, the vast majority of all criminals we deal with in the criminal and civil justice systems are coming out of homes filled with domestic violence, child abuse, and usually some mix of drugs and alcohol (Karr-Morse, R. & Wiley, M., Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1997; The Effects of Woman Abuse on Children: Psychological and Legal Authority, 2nd Edition, National Center on Women and Family Law, New York, 1994). Stopping these offenders is the best way to break the vicious generational cycle of family violence in this country.
The reauthorization of VAWA will allow many of us working in the criminal justice system to continue our work to stop violent offenders, provide services to victims and their children, and ensure the protections of VAWA extend to all victims regardless of gender, race, language, immigration status, or sexual orientation. Partisan politics should play no role in this struggle to stop the violence and abuse that is destroying the lives of women, children, men, and families. Every Democrat, Republican, and Independent should support VAWA re-authorization. It is a life and death public safety issue.