Passing Violence Against Women Act was the right decision

Helena Independent Record

by Kellie Goodwin McBride

The YWCA of Helena is celebrating the passage on Feb. 28, in the U.S. House of Representatives of S. 47, the Violence Against Women Act, by a vote of 286 to 138. Initially passed by the Senate on Feb. 13, the bill will now go to the president to be signed into law.

Since its expiration in 2011, victims of violence and abuse have been waiting for Congress to move forward on swift and immediate passage of VAWA. Nearly 2,600 women have been murdered in the United States as a result of domestic violence and sexual assault since VAWA expired.

According to the Helena Police Department, there were approximately 646 reported domestic disputes in Lewis and Clark County in 2012. Domestic violence touches every one of us. It fills emergency rooms and morgues, keeps employees from work, terrorizes families and interferes with children’s ability to learn. It drives up health care costs, contributes to crime on our streets and causes lasting harm to communities.

The YWCA of Helena thanks Rep. Steve Daines for his support and vote of the reauthorization of the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act. Last year, despite concerted efforts to pass VAWA before the 112th Congress adjourned, our representatives failed to ensure that this critical legislation was reauthorized. For the first time since its passage in 1994, VAWA became a partisan issue.

With special thanks to Montana’s Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, the Senate overwhelmingly passed S.47 to reauthorize VAWA (78-22) on Feb. 13. The House has followed suit, with Daines breaking party lines and speaking up for all victims with his yes vote.

The fact is that VAWA saves lives, supports families and needed to be reauthorized. This bill, the bill that the president will sign, is a strong, bipartisan bill that makes important improvements to ensure the safety of all victims of violence, including LGBT, immigrant and Native American women. The YWCA supports all women and victims of abuse regardless of sexual orientation, immigration status or race, and does not stand for isolating entire subsets of the community who face unique barriers to accessing services. As a leading provider of services for victims of domestic violence, the YWCA is opposed to any legislation that forces victims to negotiate their safety when seeking assistance from abusive situations.

As a result of VAWA funding, agencies across the country, including Helena’s Friendship Center, are able to provide critical services for victims of violence ranging from 24-hour emergency hotlines, emergency shelters and supportive services for women and children, short-term and transitional housing for women and children, therapy for children who have witnessed or experienced violence in their homes and prevention and intervention programs for teens.

As the YWCA of Helena, serving 33 homeless women and their children at any given time, we are strongly opposed to any legislation that excludes protections for some of the most vulnerable victims of violence. The YWCA of Helena is thankful to Congress for crafting a bipartisan bill that is trauma-informed, victim- and community-centered, and evidence-based. Our Montana delegation has shown it’s time to take the politics out of domestic violence and help ensure that all women are safe and free from fear.

Preventing domestic and sexual violence and protecting victims must remain a priority in our city, our state and our country.

Kellie Goodwin McBride is the Executive Director of the Helena YWCA