Attorneys General Call on Congress to Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act

January 11, 2012

AUGUSTA ? Attorney General William J. Schneider, joined by 52 of his fellow state and territorial Attorneys General, is calling on the United States Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (?VAWA?) and ensure that vital programs working to keep women and families safe from violence and abuse continue uninterrupted.

?I am pleased to co-sponsor the sign-on letter to support the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Bill. This important legislation generates critical resources for programs in Maine that work to defeat domestic and sexual violence. Maine?s statutes, policies and training on domestic and sexual violence have been evolving for many years and VAWA will help ensure that progress continues,? said Attorney General Schneider.

According to Elizabeth Ward Saxl, Director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, prevention and response to sexual violence in Maine has increased dramatically since VAWA was enacted. ?We have made great strides toward ending sexual violence, but we have so much work left to do. When 13,000 Mainers experience sexual violence each year, it?s clear that there is still a strong need for the presence of quality services to support victims and survivors,? said Ms. Saxl.

In their letter to members of Congress, the Attorneys General note that since the initial passage of VAWA in 1994, the national response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking has been transformed. Crimes that used to be considered private, family matters to be dealt with behind closed doors have been brought out of the darkness and the results have been dramatic. But while rates of domestic violence have dropped by over 50% in the past 17 years, the issues addressed by VAWA are still very much at the forefront of the crime fight.

Tragically, three women are killed each day in the United States by abusive husbands and partners, and for every victim who loses her life, there are nine more who narrowly escape. In Maine last summer, an abusive husband subject to a protective order murdered his wife and two young children before taking his own life. Domestic violence homicide remains Maine's deadliest crime, accounting for about half the state's murders every year.

Citing the need to maintain services to victims and families on the local, state, and federal level, the Attorneys General urged Congress to reauthorize VAWA for the first time since 2006. They note that reauthorization would not only allow existing programs to continue uninterrupted, but would also provide for the development of new initiatives aimed at key areas most in need of intervention.

These initiatives include:

  • Addressing the high rates of domestic violence, dating violence and sexual assault among women aged 16-24. Programs will work to combat tolerant youth attitudes toward violence and break the cycle in which women who experience abuse as teens are more likely to be victimized again as adults.
  • Improving the response to sexual assault across disciplines by implementing best practices, training, and communication tools among the healthcare, law enforcement, and legal services a victim encounters after an assault.
  • Preventing domestic violence homicides by enhancing training for law enforcement, advocates, and others who interact with those at risk. A growing number of experts and researchers agree that these homicides are predictable ? and therefore preventable ? if we know the warning signs.

The Attorneys General closed their letter to Congress by recalling that when VAWA was first passed in 1994, it was recognition that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are pervasive issues affecting individuals, families and communities across the nation. They note that the progress that has resulted from strong federal support has been tremendous, but that the fight never ends. Reauthorizing VAWA, the Attorneys General say, will enable that progress to continue, building on the lessons we have learned along the way and saving countless lives.

Signing on to this letter are the Attorneys General from American Samoa, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Contact: Brenda Kielty (207)626-8577