The Senate Hearing on Domestic Violence
Listen up, all you Silence Breakers out there, it’s game time. A very vital piece of legislation that protects millions of victims of domestic violence is now before Congress, and we’ve got to make some noise to make sure it’s passed.
The legislation is called the Violence Against Women Act. It was first ushered into law in 1994 and is now up for reauthorization by Congress. I was recently invited to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a content expert to talk about VAWA, which funds programs that help survivors of domestic violence rebuild their shattered lives. The money from VAWA goes to building vital emergency family shelters and creating domestic abuse hotlines. It also trains police officers on how to better protect victims and prosecutors on how to establish better criminal cases that will stand up in court. And because of VAWA, these women have access to resources such as counseling, financial literacy education, gainful employment, long-term housing options and legal assistance.
In my testimony, I took great care to remind the senators just what is at stake here — every 15 seconds a woman is abused in this country. I did the math for them; during the first hour of that committee hearing alone, 228 women would be beaten, terrorized and intimidated — and by the end of day, three women would be murdered as a result of domestic violence. I also stressed the dangerous, long-term effects that domestic violence has on the more than 10 million children who will see their mothers, sisters or aunts beaten or intimidated this year, and how the violence they are having to endure will cause deeply-rooted problems, including eroding their personalities, mental health and mental fitness, resulting in a host of long-term issues, including alcoholism, drug addiction, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, to name a few.
I showed the committee those devastating before-and-after photos of women who had been on our show — beautiful, healthy looking wives and mothers who had been beaten by their husbands or boyfriends. I talked about Audrey, whose ex-husband set her on fire after she left him, and I talked about Sandra, who lost her left eye when her boyfriend found out where she was hiding and attacked her. And I talked about how difficult it’s been to prosecute men who do such acts — and that we have to keep pushing for legislation to make sure that domestic abuse is taken out of the family courts and put into the criminal justice system, or at a minimum, we create a system of sharing information from one court to the other. “Red tape in the system means that red blood will be spilled in the home,” I told the senators.
Needless to say, I also informed them about our End the Silence on Domestic Violence campaign, and I told them about the thousands of you who have signed up to become Silence Breakers, always ready and able to give your time and resources to help.
And as the hearing came to an end, I thought, Boy, we need the Silence Breakers to come through for us right now. This summer, as I’m sure you know, Congress is looking for all sorts of ways to cut the federal budget, and I’m afraid adequate funding for the Violence Against Women Act is in jeopardy. The co-chair of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, went so far as to declare during the hearing that reviews of VAWA grants have uncovered problems with record-keeping and unallowable expenditures. “In today’s economic environment,” he said, “we cannot tolerate this level of malfeasance in federal grant programs.”
I agree with Sen. Grassley completely. We need to ensure that VAWA’s programs are held to strict accountability. However, we need to make equally sure that we never turn our backs on women who are in crisis. And make no mistake, this crisis is getting worse, largely due to our economic downturn. Domestic violence numbers spike when people are stressed out over money. One recent report found that some 9,500 women each day cannot get the help they need. They are told there’s no room at the inn.
I worry about those 9,500 women because I know the danger they face. As we’ve talked about many times on the show, nearly 70 percent of injuries and murders in domestic violence cases happen to women after they leave abusive relationships. It’s a phenomenon known as “separation assault.” So they need a safe place. And if the federal government doesn’t step in with the funding, then those women are in real trouble, because right now, states and localities can’t afford to keep many of their shelters open, let alone build desperately-needed new ones.
So let’s keep active, Silence Breakers. Write to your U.S. representative and senator and let them know how important it is that they vote to re-authorize VAWA. Let’s make sure that money continues to flow into the programs that fund safe havens for those women who have made the brave decision to leave their abusive relationships. For those of you who haven’t become a Silence Breaker and want to join our campaign, you can go here to take the pledge.
And, as always, if someone you know is an abusive relationship — or if that someone is you — we’ve got a lot of resources at DrPhil.com to help you or your friend get help.
Let’s do what we can to create a world where women feel safe. And let’s certainly make sure our daughters and granddaughters don’t grow up in a world that looks the other way or fails to react if they are the victims of violence. This epidemic cannot remain silent!