News Releases

Remarks by Senator Patty Murray at a Forum on Domestic Violence in Rural Communities

May 16 2001

Hosted By the National Network to End Domestic Violence

Good morning. Thank you Tyra [Tyra Lindquist, Wa. St. Coalition Against DV] for that kind introduction and for your great work in Washington state.

I want to thank the National Network to End Domestic Violence for organizing this panel, and I want to acknowledge the other panelists for their work on this issue.

Over the years, I've talked to a lot of victims. They often feel like they don't have any options left. I've seen the scared look on their faces. I've seen how things that we take for granted every day are major challenges for them. We don't think twice about picking our kids up from school or going to the grocery store. We don't worry about where we're going to sleep tonight. But those simple things are big challenges for victims of domestic violence. Even the easy things that we don't think about are hard for them.

And that's why advocates like you are so important. A woman who's fleeing her husband with two kids in tow doesn't have the time or the energy to fight for her rights in Congress. She's got her hands full just getting through the week.

That's why it's so important that advocates like all of you are here in Washington to fight on their behalf. They might not know exactly what you're doing on this bill or that reauthorization, but they will feel the impact of another shelter or more money to prosecute abusers. So I just want to start by thanking you for being such passionate advocates for victims who too often do not have a voice in Congress.

I know that whatever we accomplish in Washington, D.C. it's really those of you on the front lines who will determine our success.

This morning I want to talk about the federal role in addressing domestic violence. I want to focus on the progress we've made so far, what we're doing to help meet the challenges in rural communities, and some legislation I'm going to introduce this year.

First, as all of you know, we've made a lot of progress since I first came to the Senate in 1993. Back then, domestic violence was seen as just a family problem -- something the government should stay out of. Domestic violence was also not talked about publicly and that made it even harder for victims to seek help.

Things started to change in 1994 with passage of the Violence Against Women Act. For the first time, domestic violence was recognized as a crime against the community and as a public health epidemic. Domestic violence came out into the open as we began a national dialogue.

VAWA put in place a comprehensive, national strategy. It brought all of the key players together: police, the courts, social services, and advocates. It also focused on both helping the victims and prosecuting the abusers. I was proud to help write and pass that legislation, and I've seen the difference it's made.

Just last year, we made more progress when we reauthorized VAWA. It was an opportunity to update the laws based on what we learned.

Next I want to turn to the special challenges that rural communities face -- and many of you see these every day. As I have traveled around Washington state, I've seen first-hand how committed rural communities are to ending domestic violence. But they often face special barriers like isolation, a lack of resources, and a lack of technical information and assistance.

We also know that it can take a much greater effort to educate others and to coordinate an effective response in rural areas.

At the federal level, we've tried to address those problems. As you know, the original VAWA legislation and our reauthorization had several programs targeted toward rural communities including funds targeted to rural communities

In the original VAWA legislation, we included funding for Rural Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Enforcement Grants. Unfortunately, it was not funded until FY 2000, when I helped secure $25 million for this important effort.

During reauthorization last year, we went even further. We made these funds more flexible. We also indicated that it should be funded at $40 million. Unfortunately, because of the timing, in FY 2001 we were only able to secure $25 million. Now we're planning for FY 2002, and I want to make sure we get up to the $40 million funding level. Unfortunately, President Bush's budget flatlines this program -- keeping it at $25 million. We've got to do better than that because the needs are so large.

Let me mention a second initiative, the Transitional Housing Program. During reauthorization, we gave rural communities another tool to help with housing. Because many small communities do not have the resources to operate a shelter or a comprehensive program of services, it's critical that we support transitional and safe housing.

As you all know, many women stay trapped in a violent home simply because they know of no alternative. That's why during reauthorization we created the Transitional Housing Program. It provides short-term housing assistance and short-term support services.

Of course, there are other programs that rural communities draw on for support including STOP formula grants and grants to encourage arrests.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will continue to push hard for full funding of VAWA programs -- including those we strengthened last year.

Finally, I want to turn to the future, and some legislation I'm working on. We've made progress, but we also need to address the long-term economic factors that trap victims. I've been working with Senator Wellstone on legislation that begins the process of tearing down these barriers.

Unemployment Benefits

This legislation includes employment protection. Right now if a woman leaves her job because her husband relocates, she may be eligible for unemployment benefits. But if that woman has to flee her job to escape an abusive spouse, she's not eligible for support in many states (because she left "on her own free will."). That's unacceptable and our legislation addresses that.

Family and Medical Leave

Right now, if a woman's spouse becomes ill, she can use family and medical leave to care for him. But if she needs to go to court to get a restraining order or testify against an abusive spouse, she can be fired. That's unacceptable, and our legislation addresses that.

Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) Assistance

If a woman flees a violent home or relationship, she cannot qualify for TANF assistance for her and her children unless she is out looking for a job. Well as all of you know, if that woman is living in a shelter, she won't be able to give out her address or phone number for safety reason. That's unacceptable, and our legislation addresses that and other economic factors.

Senator Wellstone and I will be introducing our bill later this year, and I hope you'll join us in supporting it. In closing, I want to thank you and urge you to continue doing three things. First, I know I don't have to tell you this, but I urge all of you to continue to push for funding of VAWA programs -- especially those specifically targeted to rural communities.

Second, please hold all of us to the commitments we made in VAWA reauthorization. The legislation had overwhelming bipartisan support, and it's not enough just to pass it. We've got to fund it.

Finally, keep working in your organizations -- so that what we accomplish in Congress will have an impact in the community. Thank you.