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Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray(D-WA) introduced a bill to help victims of domestic violence escape abusive relationships. Murray cosponsored S.1429, the Victims Economic Safety and Security Act (VESSA). The bill would help end insurance and employment discrimination, would provide legal assistance, and would help victims who must flee their jobs gain access to unemployment benefits. This bill is a continuation of Senator Murray's efforts over the years to help victims of domestic violence. VESSA is similar to the "Battered Women's Economic Security Act", which Murray introduced last year.

Senator Murray's Statement

I am proud to join with my colleagues, Senators Wellstone and Schumer, to introduce the Victims Economic Safety and Security Act (VESSA). VESSA will help our country take the next step forward to protect victims of domestic violence. In 1994, our country took a dramatic step forward by passing the historic Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This landmark legislation brought together social service providers, victim advocates, law enforcement, and the courts to respond to the immediate threat of violence. VAWA has been a success in meeting the immediate challenges. But there is still work to be done.

Between 1993 and 1998 the average annual number of physical attacks on intimate partners was 1,082,110. Eighty-seven percent of these were committed against women. According to recent government estimates, more than 900,000 women are raped every year in the United States. Women who are victims of abuse are especially vulnerable to changes in employment, pay, and benefits. Because of these factors they need legal protection

Today, it's time to take the next step. Our bill will protect victims who are forced to flee their jobs. Today a woman can receive unemployment compensation if she leaves her job because her husband must relocate. But if that same woman must leave her job because she's fleeing abuse, she can't receive unemployment compensation. That's wrong, and our bill will protect those victims.

Our bill will also protect victims by allowing them unpaid time to get the help they need. Today, a woman can use the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a sick or injured spouse. But a woman cannot use FMLA leave to go to court to stop abuse. Our bill will correct these fatal flaws.

Finally, our bill will protect victims of domestic violence from insurance discrimination. Insurance companies have classified domestic violence as a high risk behavior. That punishes women who are victims. Once again, women must sacrifice their economic safety net if they choose to come forward and seek help from violence. Title IV of VESSA would prohibit discrimination in all lines of insurance against victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.

I'm proud of the guidance we've received from advocates in crafting this legislation. I want to thank them for their efforts and their commitment to breaking the cycle of violence. I want to particularly acknowledge the efforts of the advocates in Washington State who have provided invaluable input in drafting this legislation. Without the grassroots support for our communities, we couldn't have passed VAWA in the first place. Their support and leadership will help us take this critical next step in passing VESSA.