(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray made the following statement on Congressional passage of a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act:
"Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the Violence Against Women Act, which Congress has finally reauthorized after many delays. As my colleagues know, the final bill passed the Senate on Friday , it passed the House on Saturday, and it is now headed to the President for his signature.
As domestic violence leaders in my home state of Washington will tell you, this reauthorization is long overdue. VAWA has been a critical tool for fighting domestic violence, and it should have never been allowed to expire. The Republican leadership finally recognized that, and now we will strengthen and expand that critical law.
Today I want to discuss some of the improvements we've passed – including new tools related to healthcare, housing, and abuse that involves police officers. I also want to share my disappointment that the economic protections I've worked to include were removed when this bill was considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
I've tried to advance critical economic protections at every turn, and I want to update my colleagues – and advocates in Washington state – about where those efforts stand. I do want to thank several of my colleagues for their hard work on this bill, including -- Senators Leahy, Specter, Biden, Hatch and Kennedy.
Updating a National Strategy
Mr. President, the original Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) created a national strategy for dealing with domestic violence. And that strategy has been very successful. VAWA brought together victims’ advocates, social service providers, and law enforcement professionals to meet the immediate challenges of domestic violence. This bill reauthorizes and strengthens those core programs.
This bill also creates new programs that represent important steps forward in areas like healthcare, housing and officer-involved abuse.
New Healthcare Initiative
The first new step concerns healthcare. For the first time, VAWA includes a national health care response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. It authorizes new grants to train health care providers to recognize and respond to domestic or sexual violence. These grants will help establish partnerships between victims service providers and health care providers in state hospitals and public health departments. It also provides funding for direct services for sexual assault victims, including 24-hour emergency and support services.
New Housing Support for Abuse Victims
Second, this law now addresses housing inequities for victims by providing new grants to help victims find long-term housing. It also protects the confidentiality of victims who are receiving assistance from Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded programs. VAWA also now includes provisions to protect mail order brides and expands protections for immigrant victims.
Creation of the Crystal Judson Domestic Violence Protocol Program
This legislation also addresses the issue of police officer-involved domestic violence. I have spoken about this issue on the Senate floor before because of a terrifying case in Washington state. In April 2003, Tacoma police chief David Brame shot and killed his wife, Crystal Judson Brame. Then he took his own life, all while their two young children watched. The final tragic act was the last in a long history of abusive events.
In response to this incident, the City of Tacoma, the Tacoma Police Department, and others formed a task force to examine officer-involved domestic violence. They created a new policy for the Tacoma Police Department, and they helped pass a state law which requires that departments have policies on officer-involved abuse.
This VAWA bill gives local communities new resources to deal with abuse that involves police officers. It funds the Crystal Judson Domestic Violence Protocol Program. It allows law enforcement agencies, victim service providers, and federal, state and local governments to use STOP grant funds to create new protocols for handling officer-involved domestic violence.
What happened in Tacoma is a tragedy that cannot be weighed. Out of that tragedy, Washington state changed it laws, and now the federal government is giving communities across the country new tools to address officer-involved abuse. So that new provision – along with the healthcare and housing measures – represent new progress in fighting domestic violence.
But frankly, we've got a lot more work to do. I am deeply disappointment that the economic protections I have been fighting for since 1998 were not included in this reauthorization – despite some early progress.
We Still Need to Address the Economic Barriers that Trap Victims
Mr. President, if we are going to break the cycle of violence, we need to address the economic barriers that trap victims in abusive relationships.
We know that financial insecurity is a major factor in ongoing domestic violence. Too often, victims don't have the financial strength to leave a violent relationship. As a result, they are forced to choose between protecting themselves and keeping a roof over their heads. When a victim cannot afford to move out, or cannot afford to pay the rent, or has lost a job because of abuse, that person is trapped, and Congress needs to help free them from that trap.
My Attempt to Provide Unpaid Leave for Abuse Victims
In this bill, we had an opportunity to help victims. In the Senate version of the bill, I worked to include an unpaid leave provision. It was in the Senate version, but it was dropped by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In my view, that was wrong. It's like leaving someone trapped in a burning building. We should have knocked down the barriers and thrown open the exit doors, but the Senate failed – and that will have a real impact on people trapped in abusive relationships.
The protections I sought were reasonable. It would have allowed victims to take up to 10 days of unpaid leave per year to address domestic violence. Over 40 percent of American workers get no paid time off. They cannot use vacation time to address abuse, and missing work puts them in danger of losing their job. My provision would have allowed victims to take unpaid leave to get a protective order, see a doctor, or make a safety plan.
But unfortunately, there was opposition and complaints about jurisdiction, and these protections were stripped from the bill during consideration in the Judiciary Committee. See: Senator Murray's October 6th Speech
My Attempt to Include Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Once those protections were dropped, I kept fighting. I offered another tool to help victims escape abusive relationships. I asked the managers of the bill to include a provision on unemployment insurance. I asked them to provide victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking with unemployment insurance if they have to leave their job or are fired because of abuse.
We know that a job is often the only way for victims to build up the resources to leave a violent relationship, but abuse and stalking can make it impossible for a victim to keep a job.
Many of my colleagues may recall the story of Yvette Cade, of Maryland. As reported in the Washington Post, Ms. Cade’s estranged husband showed up at her job at a wireless phone store, threw gasoline on her, and lit her on fire. A restraining order against her estranged husband had been dropped shortly before the incident, even though she had indicated he was still threatening her. Ms. Cade was burned over 60 percent of her body and remains in the hospital.
There are many more cases of abusers who deliberately sabotaging a victim’s ability to work, placing harassing phone calls, cutting off their transportation, and showing up at the workplace and threatening other employees. When a victim loses a job because of violence, that victim should have access to unemployment compensation benefits.
Recognize the Full Cost of Domestic Violence
Mr. President, some people might claim that it is too expensive to allow victims to access unpaid leave. But I would remind my colleagues that domestic violence imposes costs on a workplace too. When violence follows victims into the workplace, it doesn’t just hurt victims - it hurts their employers. It means less productivity and higher insurance costs.
So anyone who says it's too expensive to provide unpaid leave should also remember that domestic violence is expensive to businesses to in both lives and dollars. Providing the tools that will allow abused women to escape abusive relationships can help offset billions of dollars in costs that domestic violence imposes on businesses.
I'll Continue the Fight
Mr. President, unfortunately, my efforts to include unpaid leave provisions were rejected as well. But I'm not giving up. I've been at this since 1998 and I know who I'm fighting for. I've been to the shelters in my state, and I've talked with the victims. I've met with their advocates, and I'm not giving up on them. For example, see: Senator Murray's remarks at a roundtable in Bellevue on August 3rd
My SAFE Act
I'm going to keep pushing for my SAFE Act, which stands for the Security and Financial Empowerment Act. (Details) It contains the protections victims need to break the cycle of violence. I would like to thank Senators Leahy, Corzine, Dayton and Dodd for signing on as original cosponsors, and would invite all of my colleagues to sign on as well.
Mr. President, I'm going to continue to tell their stories because we need to hear their voices here in the United States Senate. It's easy to argue about jurisdiction, but that doesn't mean anything to someone who's getting beaten up every night. It's easy to argue about the cost of unpaid leave – but that doesn't mean anything to someone who needs to get a protective order so they can escape a violent relationship.
This Congress has a lot of work to do to help victims, and I will come to this Senate floor as many times as it takes, until we finally give victims the help they need and deserve."