By Congressman Chris Smith
For 22 years, the Violence Against Women Act has been one of our nation’s most impactful laws. Aided by $6 billion in federal VAWA funding, millions of women have received emergency assistance during a crisis and support that has helped break the cycle of violence.
As the first comprehensive legislative package to address the epidemic of domestic violence, VAWA changed the attention to and conversation surrounding how we as a nation can better support victims of abuse and help families in need of a safe space. The law, which I supported at the outset and consistently since, invested significant resources to help prevent domestic abuse, assist the women and children who fall victim to it, and improve the judicial system’s response.
On the eve of the anniversary of the signing of VAWA (Sept 12th), I visited the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence (NJCEDV) in Hamilton. The coalition is a statewide advocacy organization with a membership of 30 domestic violence programs providing a variety of services including emergency safe housing and 24-hour hotlines for those in need across our state.
Last year alone, the coalition partners: assisted nearly 1,600 women and over 1,700 children in need of emergency shelter; answered almost 93,000 hotline calls from families in need of a lifeline; provided over 13,000 victims with legal, financial and housing advocacy, and counseling; and trained approximately 97,000 individuals including court personnel, police, health care providers, faith leaders, high school and middle school students, as well as the general public, on how to identify and respond to domestic violence incidents.
That same day, I was pleased to announce that the United States Department of Justice awarded the NJCEDV a new federal grant of $91,641 to continue their critical work ensuring women and their families, particularly during a crisis, have the resources they need—and that those resources are readily available.
NJCEDV is in the trenches. They act as the first line of defense for victims and I believe we have an obligation to ensure that we properly and adequately fund their efforts. In fact, this grant was first authorized by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA/ P.L. 106-386), legislation I authored to boost federal anti-human trafficking efforts which included the first-ever reauthorization of VAWA.
After raising four children, my wife Marie and I welcomed the birth of our first granddaughter in 2010. She has inspired me to work even harder for a culture of zero-tolerance.
As we mark the anniversary of VAWA, we must redouble our efforts to protect women and girls from violence and abuse—from the horrors of human trafficking and sex tourism industries that sells them as commodities; from a culture that uses or condones any sexual assault as a weapon of war; from a justice system that prioritizes the ‘impact’ on athletes or celebrities accused of these heinous crimes over the lives of their victims; and from fears of retaliation that disincentives women everywhere—especially and including on college campuses and in the military—from coming forward confident that they will obtain the justice they deserve.