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Biden and the VAWA

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To put fair criticisms of Biden’s record as head of the Judiciary Committee in context, Jon Cohn extensively details Biden’s role in creating the Violence Against Women Act and its importance:

It may be hard to remember now, but widespread awareness of domestic violence–and how to deal with it–is a relatively new phenomenon. As late as the early 1990s, many communities had no domestic violence shelters at all, while those that did couldn’t fund them adequately. And neither law enforcement nor the judicial system were prepared to deal with the special nature of domestic violence. If a woman who’d been battered or raped went to the police, she was frequently lucky if she got sympathy–let alone experts trained in how to handle such cases, go after perpetrators, and counsel the victims. “At that time there were no victim rights and [somebody] had to witness an act of violence in order to prosecute it,” says Judy Ellis, now executive director of First Step, a domestic violence program based in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. “The criminal justice system lacked information and training on the dynamics of domestic violence and its effects on the family.”

VAWA changed all of that. It cracked down on interstate stalking, set standards for the collection and use of evidence in abuse cases, and set up a national domestic violence hotline. No less important, VAWA poured money into local communities for the creation of new prevention and treatment initiatives. In Detroit, according to Ellis, a VAWA grant allowed local authorities to hire prosecutors, police officers. and counselors specifically trained to deal with domestic violence. It also paid for outreach programs into non-English speaking communities, where many victims had no idea of their rights–or the resources now available to them.

[…]

So what did Biden have to do with all of that? Everything. Biden had been promoting a domestic violence bill starting in the early 1990s, and although it didn’t go far at first, he kept at it, finally getting his chance in 1994, once Bill Clinton became president and began pushing for a crime bill. Even then, it was a tough sell. Critics, led by Republican Senator Robert Dole, thought the ’94 crime bill was bloated with unnecessary spending and demanded cuts from it–including the $1.6 billion over six years set aside for VAWA. But Biden held firm and, eventually, got his way. “You can sponsor a bill, but if you just sponsor a bill and let it sit there, that’s nothing,” says Pat Reuss, a longtime activist who was one of the measure’s chief advocates in Washington. “He shepherded it. He made sure it happened. He assigned staff to it, gave them carte blanche to do with they needed, they spent days and nights on it.”

Combine that with his large role in defeating Bork, and…it’s more than many long-term Senators accomplish in itself.

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