By Sarah Plummer
The U.S. House and the Senate are still at odds over the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which expired in 2011 and has yet to be reauthorized by Congress. But for victim advocates who help both women and men survive abuse, assault, stalking, rape and dating violence, the issue is simple.
“This issue is not about political agendas. In West Virginia, there are two domestic violence homicides every month — that’s what this is about,” stressed Women’s Resource Center Director Patricia Bailey.
A reauthorization passed in the Senate last Congress and then was blocked by the Republican-led House of Representatives. The House passed a version of the bill that limits protection for Native American and immigrant women as well as members of the LBGTQ community.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, domestic violence disproportionately affects Native Americans with around 45 percent of both American Indian men and women experiencing partner violence.
A new 2013 reauthorization was expected to pass in the Senate Monday; however, there has been no move in the House to act on the bill yet this session.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who is co-sponsoring the reauthorization, said, “Everyone deserves to be safe from abuse. We should provide victims of domestic violence with every protection the law can provide, which is why we need to continue this debate and move it quickly toward final passage.
“I’m calling on the House to step up to the plate quickly, pass this bill and join us in protecting victims of domestic violence.”
Bailey said, “We are not in the business of picking and choosing which victims we serve. We are here to try to eliminate domestic violence and serve victims of violence.”
Bailey explained if Congress does not come to a consensus, West Virginia victims can lose a staggering amount of support.
Last year West Virginia received $3.9 million for use by local law enforcement agencies and victims’ service organizations.
More than 1,300 West Virginians — including more than 500 children — are housed in 14 in-state domestic violence shelters that serve all 55 counties.
Bailey said that across Fayette, Raleigh, Nicholas and Summers counties alone, the Women’s Resource Center helped 3,500 victims last year, including 181 victims of sexual assault.
“That is why this funding is so important,” Bailey said.
In Raleigh County, for instance, the Violence Against Women Act funds a part-time prosecutor, a domestic law enforcement officer with Beckley Police, and a victims’ advocate.
“Because of VAWA, thousands of West Virginia victims have received lifesaving services and support,” added Tonia Thomas with the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “In times of fear and torment, it makes a difference to have an advocate from a local domestic violence program help maneuver through the confusion and pain.
“VAWA provides resources for that to happen, it provides a lifeline to victims and advocates on call 24 hours a day in a time of crisis and uncertainty.”
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