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TALKING IT OVER
September 27, 2000
For nearly eight years, this administration has worked to bring peace to some of the most troubled spots in the world -- from Northern Ireland to the Balkans, Africa and the Middle East. But it is hard for us to make peace around the world unless we first commit ourselves to make peace within our own homes.
That is why it is critical that the Senate vote this week to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
Congress first passed VAWA in 1994. Part of the President's crime bill, this landmark legislation improved the criminal justice system's response to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, and provided critical services to victims. Since its passage, VAWA has made a difference in the lives of countless women and children. Between 1993 and 1998 alone, violent attacks on women by an intimate partner declined 21 percent.
Under VAWA, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services have awarded over $1.6 billion in grants nationwide -- grants that support the work of prosecutors, law enforcement officials, courts, victims' advocates, health care and social service professionals, and intervention and prevention programs. In addition, VAWA has established a domestic violence hotline that has received half a million calls.
Although tremendous strides have been made, domestic violence still devastates the lives of too many women and children each year. These statistics tell the story in stark detail:
This week, the President traveled to New Mexico, where he visited the Genoveva Chavez Community Center in Santa Fe, N.M., and called on members of Congress to reauthorize VAWA, which is due to expire on Sept. 30. If Congress fails to reauthorize this landmark bill, critical programs will be jeopardized.
Reauthorization will allow the continued maintenance and expansion of the domestic violence hotline, as well as shelter, rape prevention and education programs. It will expand the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, provide assistance to a greater number of victims, and support effective partnerships between law enforcement, victims' advocates and communities.
While in New Mexico, the President announced $1.7 million in new VAWA grants that will be used by state officials to combat domestic violence, especially among Native American women. Among the programs that will benefit from the funding: El Refugio, Inc., a legal services center that trains law enforcement staff to respond to domestic violence issues and represents victims who desperately need legal assistance.
The Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, Inc., provides services to the eight local pueblos, as well as supporting legal services for victims and improved collaboration among social services, tribal police departments, prosecutors, courts and the PeaceKeepers Domestic Violence Program. Morning Star House, a community-based advocacy program for women and children in Albuquerque, N.M., is working to identify a network of safe houses for native women and children and to develop a plan for a permanent shelter.
VAWA funding has also supported the work of Connie Trujillo, who, for 20 years, has been the executive director of the Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families, one of the oldest battered women's shelters in the country. Connie, herself, is a survivor of domestic violence. Her former husband killed one child, and caused her to miscarry another. Since its founding in 1976, Esperanza has served as a safe haven for over 36,000 women and children, providing crisis intervention, counseling, educational activities for children, medical referrals, legal advocacy and assistance in finding transitional housing.
As I was writing this column, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize VAWA, taking a step toward a brighter future for programs like those I've described. Although the 415-3 vote is proof positive that there is broad bipartisan support for the legislation, the Republican leadership in the Senate has been curiously reluctant to schedule a clean vote. Today, I hope that the spirit of bipartisanship -- the willingness to put the public good over party politics -- will prevail, and that the Senate, too, will be afforded the opportunity to vote on and pass this critically important bill.
When Bill and I lived in Arkansas, our house was close to the local domestic violence shelter in Little Rock, Ark. There, I spent many hours talking to the women and children, listening to their stories and trying to help them get the resources they so desperately needed.
It must be clear to everyone that domestic violence is a crime that affects not just its immediate victims, but all of us. It increases health costs, keeps adults from work and children from school. It destroys families, relationships and lives, and robs our children of their right to be children.
It's time for the Senate leadership to schedule a vote on VAWA. We cannot turn our backs on millions of women and children. We cannot let them face the nightmare of violence alone.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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