Tester issues column on the 20th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester today issued the following column to mark the 20th Anniversary of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act:

September marks the 20th Anniversary of the groundbreaking passage of the Violence Against Women Act.

This law is changing lives. It’s protecting more women – and men – from domestic violence. It’s providing resources and shelter for the abused. And it’s altering how we view what was once considered a private family matter.

In light of the high-profile abuse case of NFL player Ray Rice, as well as the increasing attention that sexual violence is receiving on college campuses and in the military, VAWA’s 20th Anniversary is an opportunity to examine how far we’ve come – and where we still must go.

As momentum built behind VAWA in the early 1990s, women testified to Congress about the abuse they received at the hands of their tormentors. Stories of assaults, murders and rapes – perpetrated by those with whom women shared their lives – rocked lawmakers and caught the public’s attention.

Twenty years later, we still have work to do. As of right now, one in five women in America will experience rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.

But the Violence Against Women Act is making a difference. Women today are more likely to report domestic violence, even as the rate of violence itself is down 64 percent.

The law is getting resources to the ground in states like Montana. Groups like The Friendship Center in Helena and the YWCA are now receiving support to help more Montanans. I’ve seen firsthand the difference these organizations make in women’s lives.

The Friendship Center expanded services to rape victims and hired an advocate to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The YWCA in Billings received nearly $300,000 to provide transitional housing for survivors of domestic violence.

These centers and shelters are irreplaceable sources of refuge and comfort. One woman who stayed at a shelter in Bozeman told me it saved her life. Another said it “returned the light to her life.”

When Congress last year voted to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act, some members of Congress balked at expanding protections for women in Indian Country. But the rate of sexual violence against Native American women is 2.5 times higher than the general population, and the individual stories of abuse are devastating. Something had to be done.

The improved protections are already supporting Native women. Earlier this year, Montana’s U.S. Attorney cited the new Indian Country provisions in VAWA for helping to put a Browning man behind bars who strangled and beat a woman for twenty minutes.

Let’s be clear: No Montana community tolerates violence against women. Committing the resources to keep our most vulnerable citizens safe is the right thing to do.

In tough budgetary times, Congress faces pressure to reduce our debt and deficit. But the Violence Against Women Act saves our country billions of dollars in social costs by supporting women and their families and making our society a healthier and safer place to live.

As campaign season continues to heat up, ask candidates where they stand on funding for initiatives that protect women and survivors of domestic violence. It’s one thing to say you support laws like VAWA, it’s another to make sure it has the funding needed to be effective.

In the run-up to VAWA’s passage in 1994, one woman testified to Congress that her rape caused her to feel “suffering, the loss of feeling of control,” and “incredible self-blame.” She wanted to know why it felt like it was her fault.

The answer is it never is. Domestic and sexual violence are never acceptable, and as your Senator, I will continue to strengthen protections and resources for survivors.

Because in another 20 years, no American should consider violent crime to be a private family matter.