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VAWA: Because Every Man, Woman and Child in America Is at Risk and Every Crime Victim Deserves Justice

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It is said April is the cruelest month and certainly this April Florida Governor Rick Scott landed the cruelest act, vetoing funding for rape crisis centers in the middle of National Sexual Assault Awareness month. But this is not a late April Fool's joke or the lone wolf action of a singular austerian -- this is part and parcel of a systematic effort to oppose the Violence Against Women Act, and it must be stopped. Republicans need to take back their resolve -- and their party -- from the Tea Party fringes who oppose crime-fighting in America when they don't like the crime victims.

From the moment Sarah Palin was selected by John McCain in 2008, crime victim advocates expressed concern that her decision to charge victims for rape kits as Wasilia mayor was a sign that Republicans would oppose the Violence Against Women Act that Barack Obama's vice presidential nominee Joe Biden had helped write and that John McCain had opposed in 1994 and as recently as 2007. Our concerns were made manifest in recent weeks, when once again, a handful of Republican Senators and a majority of Republican Tea Partiers have decided to derail protections for crime victims.

It doesn't have to be this way. The ideology of a few should not risk the safety of the community.

As a former child abuse and sexual assault prosecutor, I know firsthand the need for law enforcement to have all possible tools to combat crimes against intimate partners. I was on the front lines of domestic violence prosecution in 1997 in the immediate post-OJ era and can attest to the VAWA's effectiveness in assisting law enforcement efforts to create a safer community. We used those laws to help men, women and children survive the crime of abuse and chart a path to recovery. We weren't kidding ourselves -- we knew that we weren't going to make people whole or offer closure -- what we could do was mete out justice to the abuser and lend humanity to the survivor. Yes, it says "women" in the title, but in point of fact we used VAWA resources and protections to prosecute crimes against men, women and children.

Go to any courthouse in America -- you will see that the only crimes universal across race, ethnicity, class, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation are those of domestic violence and sexual assault. Everyone -- black or white, Latino or Asian, Native American or immigrant, rich or poor, gay or straight -- is at risk. Yes, every man woman and child in America is at risk of domestic violence and sexual assault, and every crime victim deserves equal justice under the law.

We are doing better with VAWA but the statistics are still staggering: as Senator Patty Murray recently stated, every single minute, 24 people across America are victims of violence by an intimate partner -- more than 12 million every year. Forty-five percent of the women killed in this country die at the hands of their partner.
Every 2 minutes, someone is sexually assaulted in America - an average of 207,754 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year. Children who report crimes (and they are a small percentage of the number of kids victimized) constitute 15 percent of all rape and assault victims. Ninety-three percent of children know their abuser and over 30 percent of child sex assault victims live with that person. Yes, live, as in live under the same roof -- in a terror that doesn't end until, as one young victim said to me after her abuser was imprisoned, "Now he can worry about who's coming after him at night."

The truth is that great bipartisan work is being done every day to educate women and men on their rights and responsibilities. We have come a long way thanks to the Violence Against Women Act and the various Nicole Brown Simpson laws that have educated police officers, social workers, court personnel, and family members to the need for early intervention, "no drop" charging policies, mandatory batterer classes and stay away orders. Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike have proudly stood up for crime victims and helped them move onto better life circumstances.

But far too many families still know the pain and the shame of domestic violence. Too often crimes of marital rape and intimate partner abuse go unreported. The economic pressure to stay with a batterer is enormous. For immigrant families, knowing that conviction can mean deportation, women have the horrific choice between pursuing justice or breaking up their families. Unfair but true: the economic consequences outweigh the social consequences in far too many cases.

So when Republicans say they are for the VAWA, "just a rewrite," think again. Their immediate past nominee opposed it since its inception, selected a running mate who violated it by charging rape victims for rape kits, and their new nominee Mitt Romney won't tell us where he stands even as his surrogates and endorsers oppose VAWA. When Congressional Republicans say they would be for VAWA but it gives "too many rights" to Native American, immigrant and LGBT victims, we must tell them to fight crime against everybody -- don't stop fighting crimes when you don't like the victims. After all, there are Republicans among those Native American, immigrant and LGBT families affected by domestic violence and sexual assault. They need justice to -- and their elected representatives must not play politics with their lives.

We know the stakes: the safety of our people and our community. We know the statistics: every two minutes a DV incident; every two minutes a sexual assault. We know the solution: put politics aside and work together to fight crimes and heal families. Reauthorize -- and fund -- the Violence Against Women Act without further delay because everyone is at risk and everyone deserves equal justice under the law.

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