Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Senator Murray Urges the Senate to Enact Economic Protections for Domestic Violence Victims

Oct 06 2005

Senate Passes VAWA Bill Without Unpaid Leave Protections

Murray: "Without our help, economic dependency will trap victims in violent relationships."


(Washington, D.C.) – Today in a Senate floor speech, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) urged the Senate to address the economic barriers that trap victims in abusive relationships. This week, the Senate reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. Unfortunately, the bill that passed did not include any economic protections. Last week, Murray introduced companion legislation called the SAFE Act (S.1796), which seeks to knock down the economic barriers that victims face.

In her speech, Murray shared some of the stories she heard at a roundtable discussion she held in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, October 4th.

More information on Murray's Work to Fight Domestic Violence

Murray's full remarks follow:

Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the Violence Against Women Act, which the Senate this week passed by unanimous consent. For the last few months, we have been talking about reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, as it is better known.

Back in 1994, through this historic legislation, we created a national strategy for dealing with domestic violence, establishing a community-wide response. Since we took that historical step, VAWA has been a great success in coordinating victims’ advocates, social service providers, and law enforcement professionals to meet the immediate challenges of combating domestic violence.

So, Mr. President, we can clearly see that VAWA has been tremendously effective. But there is still work to be done to protect victims of domestic violence – particularly when it comes to helping victims break the cycle of violence. And that is what I am here to talk about today – breaking the cycle of violence.

Financial insecurity is a major factor in ongoing domestic violence. Too often, victims who are not economically self sufficient are forced to choose between protecting themselves and their children on one hand, and keeping a roof over their head on the other hand.

It is critical that we help guarantee the economic security of victims of domestic or sexual violence who cannot pay the rent without their abusive partner, or who have been forced to leave their job because of abuse. Without our help, economic dependency will continue to force these victims to stay in abusive relationships.

Mr. President, the purpose of the Violence Against Women Act is to reduce domestic violence. The reauthorization legislation addresses several new issues that will help prevent and reduce domestic violence.

One such way – as I already mentioned – is a national health care strategy. But the legislation as introduced contained another important tool to helping reduce domestic violence – it contained provisions that 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 can’t use vacation time to address their abuse, and missing work puts them in danger of losing their job. This provision would have allowed these victims, and many others, to take unpaid leave to get a protective order, see a doctor, or make a safety plan to address their abuse.

But sadly, amidst opposition and complaints of jurisdictional issues, these provisions were stripped from the bill during consideration in the Judiciary Committee.

The legislation that was reported out of Committee – which the Senate just passed by unanimous consent – does not contain any economic protections for victims.

Mr. President, I did not give up on these protections easily. After the leave provisions were dropped, I asked the managers of this bill to include another economic security provision, unemployment insurance.

Specifically, 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 resources for themselves to eventually leave a violent relationship, but abuse and stalking can make it impossible for a victim to keep a job. We know of cases where abusers will deliberately sabotage a victim's ability to work, placing harassing phone calls, cutting off their transportation, showing up at the workplace and threatening employees. When a victim loses a job because of violence, that victim should have access to unemployment insurance compensation benefits.

Mr. President, are you aware that a woman is eligible for unemployment benefits if she has to leave her job because her husband had to relocate? But in many states, if a woman has to leave her job because she is fleeing a dangerous situation, she cannot receive the same benefits. That is unacceptable. Currently, 28 states plus the District of Columbia already provide some type of unemployment insurance assistance for victims of domestic violence. We can offer that same protection to victims in every State, and we have an obligation to do it. But, since this provision is not included in VAWA either, we need to do it here and now.

And, Mr. President, it is important to recognize that this violence goes far beyond the home, too often following victims into the workplace, where it doesn't just hurt victims – it hurts their employers, too. In fact, from decreased workplace productivity to increased health insurance cost, the data shows that domestic violence is bad for business. It has real and painful costs on employers. So for those Members who want to weigh this measure against its economic merits, the facts are clear. 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.

As many of my colleagues know, I have been working on the issue of economic security for victims for many years. I have spoken with victims and their advocates, and employers. In fact, just this past Tuesday in my state of Washington, I held a roundtable discussion to meet with stakeholders. I heard from an employer – and owner of a small business in Snohomish County – who talked about the importance of flexible schedules and leave policies that allow employees to address their abuse. He said that helping them address their situations helps his bottom line.

I also heard from someone who works at the employment security department, who said that the numbers do not suggest that women are abusing unemployment insurance. And I heard from a survivor, who shared her story and talked about the crucial importance of these economic protections.

These are the voices we must hear. And these are the stories we must learn from and let guide our work here in the Senate. I will come to the Senate floor as many times as it takes, and I will tell these stories until my colleagues realize that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. We need to provide these victims with the economic tools to help escape their dangerous situations.

Mr. President, for a long time, violence against women was considered a private matter. That attitude hurt women. Today, stopping domestic violence is everyone's business, and that is in large part due to the Violence Against Women Act, which I was proud to work on and help pass. For the first time, the Violence Against Women Act recognized domestic violence as a violent crime and a national public health crisis. Economic protections are the next logical step in the progress we have been making in fighting domestic violence.

Unfortunately, many of my colleagues have not realized the critical importance of providing economic protections. I brought up this issue last year when the Senate was considering the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. I tried to amend that bill with my Security and Financial Empowerment (SAFE) Act, which contains all of the economic protections I have discussed here today. I was told then that it wasn’t the right time to address preventing violence against women. My amendment was defeated on a party-line vote.

Now, I am here again talking about how the Senate is failing to address this issue – and failing to help prevent domestic violence by overlooking these economic protections. I want to reiterate to my colleagues that I will continue to come to the Senate floor and talk about how critical this issue is in helping victims get out of abusive relationships.

I will continue to introduce legislation and offer amendments providing economic protections to victims. And I will continue to ask whether the Senators in this Chamber are serious about taking the next, crucial step to help victims of abuse.

Mr. President, I urge the conferees on the Violence Against Women Act to send the powerful message to victims that they understand how important these economic protections are by including them in the conference report on VAWA.