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July 29, 2014, 8:47 am

Violence Against Women Act pushed

Every year hundreds of thousands of women are victims of rape and domestic violence, and many of them suffer the violation of their bodies and souls in silence.

On Tuesday, the United States Senate resoundingly passed Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, legislation that has easily passed both the Senate and the House in past years. But with several amendments now attached, it remains to be seen how House Republicans will respond.

The Senate version includes protections for LGBT and Native American victims of domestic violence and strengthens existing programs and services for victims of stalking and domestic and dating violence. The bill authorizes $659 million for such programs over the next five years. State Sen. Leanna Washington, herself a survivor of domestic violence, expressed her continued support for the legislation.

“Senator Leanna Washington has always supported the legislation in the past and supports it now,” said Rachel Moore, Washington’s director of communications. “As a survivor of domestic abuse, she has always been close to this issue, and it’s vitally important that Congress moves forward on this.”

The measure passed the Senate by a 78 to 22 vote; picking up support from several Republicans who voted against it last year. They include Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey; Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia; Jerry Moran, Kansas; Richard Shelby, Alabama. and Mississippi Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker.

“Unfortunately, I could not support the final, entire legislation that contains new provisions that could have potentially adverse consequences,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in a press release. Rubio said he supported authorizing programs designed to prevent and reduce domestic violence and renewing those that helped prosecute offenders and keep victims safe. He said he had concerns about handing over criminal jurisdiction to Native American tribal governments.

“Specifically, this bill would mandate the diversion of a portion of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs, although there’s no evidence to suggest this shift will result in a greater number of convictions. These funding decisions should be left up to the state-based coalitions that understand local needs best, but instead this new legislation would put those decisions into the hands of distant Washington bureaucrats in the Department of Justice. Additionally, I have concerns regarding the conferring of criminal jurisdiction to some Indian tribal governments over all persons in Indian country, including non-Indians,” Rubio said.

The Violence Against Women Act was originally drafted by then-Sen. Joe Biden and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994. It was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. The law provides grant programs that help local law enforcement agencies identify and prosecute domestic abuse offenders and sexual predators, as well as programs that assist the victims. The new version would restructure and consolidate grant programs and create new ones to raise awareness on college campuses. GOP lawmakers are concerned about provisions covering undocumented workers and members of the LGBT community.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama praised the Senate for passing the bill and said the House needs to follow so he can sign it into law. Vice President Joe Biden also said the House needs to move quickly on the measure.

“Delay isn’t an option when three women are still killed by their husbands or boyfriends every day,” the vice president said in a press release. “Delay isn’t an option when countless women still live in fear of abuse, and when one in five has been a victim of rape. This issue should be beyond debate – the House should follow the Senate’s lead and pass the Violence Against Women Act right away. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue – it’s an issue of justice and compassion.”

In 2012 a study was released detailing just how pervasive domestic violence was in Philadelphia. The study, “Violence Against Women in Philadelphia — A Report to the City”, said the Philadelphia Police Department handled 145,904 calls related to domestic violence in 2011. The number of arrests increased from 4,927 to 6,256 between 2009 and 2011.

“The Philadelphia Police Department should continue its positive and constructive relationship with the city’s domestic violence and rape crisis agencies,” the report said. “Philadelphia is one of the few, if not the sole city in which victim advocates are allowed to review every rape case. And the department involves local domestic violence agencies in efforts to improve all services to victims with the goal of reducing violence against women.”

Last year Rasheedah Blunt, a 27-year old mother, was allegedly slain by her live-in boyfriend, Dominique Haynes. Police, said she was shot multiple times. TA 3-year-old boy and the victim’s 6-year-old daughter were present, but were not harmed. In February 2012, Tiffany Gillespie, 24, was six months pregnant with her third child when she was allegedly shot to death by her boyfriend, Aaron Fitzpatrick. Investigators said that Fitzpatrick killed Gillespie following an argument in which he tried to convince her to get an abortion and she refused.

“In Philadelphia victims of domestic violence have been turned away from agencies that could help them but don’t have enough beds to accommodate them. The state doesn’t have enough beds for these women, and because of the budget cuts, funding for these agencies has either been scaled back or cut entirely,” said Washington in an earlier interview.