(Washington, D.C.) – Senator Shaheen spoke on the Senate floor today to urge her colleagues in the Senate to come together to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Shaheen spoke about her recent visits to family centers in New Hampshire, which would be unable to offer essential services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault if Congress does not reauthorize this legislation.
Shaheen’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:
Mr. President, I am here to urge all of my colleagues to come together to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This is urgent work, and we have no time to waste.
Funding under this program isn’t just about supporting victims, although that’s a critical component. It’s also about supporting law enforcement and strengthening our communities. Since this landmark legislation was first passed in 1994, we have come to rely on it in ways that many Americans probably don’t even realize.
Mr. President, domestic violence continues to be a serious problem across our country. In New Hampshire, nearly one in four women has been sexually assaulted. At least a third of New Hampshire women have been the victim of a physical assault by an intimate partner. More than half of all women in my state have experienced sexual or physical assault over the course of their lifetime. All of us share an obligation to stop this epidemic, and VAWA is a proven tool in this fight.
The real importance of this legislation lies not in the statistics, but in hearing the stories of women who have been helped by the services VAWA provides.
I’ve had a chance to visit several crisis centers around New Hampshire in the past few weeks and I’ve met the people who depend on this funding.
I went to a crisis center called Bridges in Nashua, where I spoke to a survivor of domestic violence. She told me: “When you’re a victim of domestic violence, you think you’re worthless. And there were so many times when I would have gone back to my abuser, but I knew that I could call the Bridges program 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
This brave woman is now going back to college, free from abuse. She’s going to be a life saved because of the programs that are supported by the Violence Against Women Act.
The law enforcement community needs this bill, too. I spoke to the Chief of Police in Nashua, who gets $68,000 in VAWA funding that allows him to have a dedicated unit within the police department that can respond to domestic violence and sexual assault cases.
I heard from Retired Henniker Police Chief Timothy Russell of Henniker New Hampshire, a 37-year veteran in law enforcement, who now travels around the state teaching police officers how to respond to domestic violence cases. It is funds from VAWA that allow him to conduct this specialized training so that police officers can identify patterns of domestic abuse and prevent situations from escalating. Officers are taught to maintain collaborative relationships with crisis centers, and Chief Russell tells them “If you see a victim in trouble, get a counselor on the phone to talk to them, tell them what their options are.” The victims of domestic violence are often reluctant to seek out resources on their own. Thanks to funding from VAWA, resources are brought to them.
Half of all murders in New Hampshire are domestic violence related.
Coordinated efforts from a variety of service providers are essential.
I saw just this type of cooperation in action when I visited the Family Justice Center in Strafford County, New Hampshire. They have made a multitude of services accessible in one place so victims do not have to go all over town to get the help they need. They can see a counselor, get child care assistance and fill out an application for a protective order. Women can even get their injuries treated and officially documented. They can get free legal help. This is all made possible by a VAWA grant.
This type of holistic approach helps victims and also helps police officers. The fewer instances of domestic violence, the less likely it is that officers have to respond to emergency calls and put themselves at risk in volatile, dangerous situations.
It also saves money. In addition to reducing crime, victims are less reliant on emergency rooms and less likely to need state assistance when they can connect with resources, get help with child care and housing and get back on their feet as productive citizens. This is the type of help that every citizen deserves and ultimately makes us all safer.
I am pleased to see a provision included in this bill that requires service providers to help any victim of domestic violence, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation or immigration status. This type of nondiscrimination clause has existed in New Hampshire since I was Governor, and it’s time that federal law required such equal treatment for victims.
I think Sergeant Jill Rockey in Rochester, New Hampshire put it best last week when she said: “When someone calls for help in a domestic or sexual violence case, we don’t ask if they are an immigrant or gay. We just go.”
Let us now respond with the same sense of urgency. We have a crisis in this nation, but VAWA provides the tools we need to help victims of this degrading and painful cycle. There is simply too much at stake to let politics as usual prevent us from getting this done.
Let’s make sure we don’t let victims, first responders and communities down. Let’s get them the help they need and deserve by passing this bill.
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