TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
Even though nearly one in five U.S. women have been raped and one in four women have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, efforts to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act are at a standstill. Worse still, it appears that lawmakers may choose to “do nothing” until after the federal elections in November. If Congress fails to reauthorize this act, rapists, batterers, and stalkers will encounter fewer obstacles in their persistent efforts to control and dominate. Moreover, victims will have fewer places to turn for help. This is especially true for Kentuckians as the rates of violence are higher than in other states. More than 20 percent of women in Kentucky have been raped and more than 47 percent have been victims of other types of sexual violence.
Congress needs to work across party lines to pass this act. In April, the Senate passed a strong, bipartisan bill that will reauthorize essential laws and programs for another five years and build on effective, existing programs to meet the changing needs of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. A single rape is estimated to cost over $151,000 in medical costs, lost wages, and criminal justice system costs. The Violence Against Women Act assists in reducing these costs. Both of Kentucky’s senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, voted against this very worthy bill (S.1925).
Unfortunately, the House of Representatives took another approach and passed H.R. 4970: this bill would roll back many protections that are currently available for victims, exclude many victims, and take money from victim service providers to create more bureaucracy — in short, it would fundamentally change the purpose of the Violence Against Women Act as we know it. Kentucky’s Congressmen Ben Chandler, Geoff Davis, and John Yarmuth understood the dangers inherent in this bill and voted against H.R.4970.
Since the Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994, it has dramatically improved responses to violence, throughout Kentucky and the United States. Because of this act, all states have strengthened rape laws. Furthermore, the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased by 34 percent for women and 57 percent for men. The act partially funds one rape crisis program and one domestic violence program in each of Kentucky’s Area Development Districts. In this region, there have been more than 10,000 students educated this fiscal year on the prevention of interpersonal violence. All survivors of sexual violence are offered invaluable emotional support during hospital exams and legal proceedings which can be intimidating for a person who has survived a violent act. Crisis counseling and long term therapy is offered to all survivors. The first three sessions are free. Congress needs to take action NOW so that continued progress can be made.
We sincerely hope that Congress will find a way to approve the Violence Against Women Act (S. 1925 or a bill with similar provisions) during this congressional session. Senate leadership, especially Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, must work quickly, or the window of opportunity will close. The the Violence Against Women Act says, unequivocally, to all victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, “We will help you wherever and whenever you need help.” Please do not give up on protecting victims!
Cumberland River Victims’ Services