TWENTY YEARS AGO, THE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT WAS SIGNED INTO LAW IN US
Twenty years ago today, the Violence Against Women Act was signed
into law. It remains my proudest legislative achievement -- but it
didn't happen because of me.
It happened because, at a time when kicking a woman in the stomach or
pushing her down the stairs was not taken seriously as a crime -- and
at a time when domestic violence against women was considered a "family
affair" -- something remarkable happened.
Incredibly brave and courageous women began speaking up.
Women like Marla, a model whose face was slashed by two men because
she'd refused her landlord's entrees, and who was questioned for 20
minutes during the trial about why she was wearing a miniskirt. As if
she had asked for or welcomed this repugnant act of violence. Marla
Women like Christine, who was raped in a dorm room by a friend's
boyfriend. Christine said she hadn't even known she'd been raped,
because she'd known the man. But Christine added her voice.
There were so many more. Women who had their arms broken with hammers
and heads beaten with pipes, who were among the 21,000 women who were
assaulted, raped, and murdered in a single week in America at the time.
All of these women are victims. But they're also survivors.
And because they spoke up, the conversation changed and a national
consensus formed to do something to protect them. Their stories --
experiences shared by millions more women -- put this issue front and
center before the American people. The country was forced to see the
rawest form of violence and acknowledge the culture that hid it. And
they began to demand change as a result. Local coalitions of shelters
and rape centers led the way. National women's groups and civil rights
organizations got on board. And a bipartisan group in Congress got the
bill to President Clinton's desk.
That's how we got this law enacted.
And with each reauthorization, we added more protections. In 2000, we
included a definition of dating violence. In 2005, we invested in
health providers to screen patients for domestic violence and associated
long-term psychological and physical health. And in 2013, we made VAWA
services available to LGBT Americans and restored authority for tribes
to prosecute non-Indian offenders. As a result, over the years, we've
seen domestic violence rates drop significantly, fundamental reforms of
state laws, and higher rates of convictions for special-victims units.
But we know our work here is never done. This past week, I announced
that we'll bring together legal experts, scholars, and advocates to
convene a White House Summit on Civil Rights and Equal Protection for
Women because we know bias against victims of rape and sexual assault
still exist in our criminal justice system -- and we must make clear
every victim has a basic civil right to equal protection under the law.
And if, God forbid, you're experiencing this sort of violence or know
someone who is, you can get help. You can do it right now. There is a
network of passionate and dedicated folks all across the country who are
ready to listen. It's anonymous, and it's safe. In fact, VAWA created
the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which you can visit here,* or dial 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) right now for help and advice.
Twenty years after the Violence Against Women Act was enacted, I
remain hopeful as ever that the decency of the American people will keep
us moving forward.
They understand that the true character of our country is measured
when violence against women is no longer accepted as society's secret,
and where we all understand that even one case is too many.