EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) - Senator Ron Wyden spoke at Women's Space Thursday advocating to renew the "Violence Against Women Act," otherwise known as VAWA.
Since it was signed into law in 1994, VAWA has provided billions of dollars in federal money for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute those who commit violent crimes against women. It has also imposed automatic, mandatory restitution for those convicted and has allowed compensation for cases that prosecutors left unprosecuted in the past. It has partially funded community violence prevention programs, housing to victims, rape crisis centers, hotlines, programs for victims with disabilities and legal aid for survivors.
The measure was renewed in 2000 after some debate and again five years later. It is up for debate again in 2012 with heavy opposition specifically in protecting same-sex couples and allowing battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas.
At a conference Thursday morning, law enforcement, representatives from Women's Space and SASS (Sexual Assault Support Services) and survivors spoke about the bill's importance. Senator Wyden explained to those who attended that he believes republicans are against the measure because of how complicated it can come across specifially with consideration to social policy. He said other representatives are using it as a political proxy before elections.
"Right now, what we're saying is that women who otherwise will be bloody, traumatized and stripped of their freedom and dignity will have no where to turn. That's why we feel so strongly about getting this done in July," Senator Wyden said.
Senator Wyden said he is pushing for the renewal to go through in July because that's when the congress will break for summer.
"This is NOT about social policy," he said. "This is about preventing violence."
Senator Wyden told stories about victims he had heard from. A survivor, Cass Skinner Lopata, also told her personal account of escaping domestic violence Thursday and explained if it weren't for VAWA, she would likely not be alive.
"On behalf of survivors and their children here in Lane County and across our state and across our nation I urge reauthorization of the senate's version of VAWA," she said. "I would not be here, we would not be here, if it weren't for VAWA."
"If this is not renewed," Senator Wyden said, "women will have no where to turn to. They will go to the police station and the police station might say, 'ma'am, I'm sorry, we have no recourse to offer you.'"
Senator Wyden will continue to hold meetings statewide before he returns to Washington trying to gain support for the bill before he takes it to the senate. So far, the renewal could be realistic if the two sides can come together for a vote. Both parties have submitted updated versions of VAWA.