Let’s seek justice for women
By U.S. Sen. John Cornyn
April 20, 2012
Since it became law in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has helped millions of victims break free from the terrible cycle of domestic violence – including hundreds of thousands of victims here in Texas – and it has always enjoyed broad bipartisan support. Yet some folks are now trying to use VAWA as a partisan football to score cheap political points and raise campaign funds.
This is shameful. The law was enacted to protect and serve the interests of crime victims, not to help a political party fire up its base. Moreover, to argue that a minor policy disagreement indicates a lack of sensitivity toward battered women is simply beyond the pale.
I have been a passionate advocate of VAWA-related causes for many years. During my time as Texas attorney general, we greatly expanded the number of grants available to Texas crime victims, and we consolidated various service programs into a new Crime Victims Division.
Those of us who care deeply about VAWA’s mission understand that it must remain a bipartisan cause. To that end, the Texas Council on Family Violence and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) have issued a statement calling on members of Congress to avoid divisive tactics during the current reauthorization process. I hope we embrace their advice, because VAWA is much too important to be dragged through the mud of election-year politics.
The overwhelming majority of Republicans believe it should be reauthorized, and I have cosponsored legislation to do just that. Our bill contains some commonsense proposals that would bolster VAWA and also remove a series of controversial provisions from the Democratic alternative.
Unfortunately, due to partisan politics, it will not become law. That’s why I have introduced a stand-alone Justice for Victims Amendment that would: (1) increase the funds available to reduce the rape-kit backlog; (2) create a national sexual-assault forensics registry to help with audits of untested evidence; (3) strengthen penalties for domestic violence, sexual abuse and child-sex trafficking; (4) make it easier for the U.S. Marshals Service to track down and apprehend fugitive sex offenders; and (5) urge the website BackPage.com to eliminate its “adult entertainment” section, which has been used to facilitate child prostitution.
These reforms would improve VAWA and fix some deficiencies in our criminal-justice system. For example, the rape-kit backlog is a major problem that has exasperated victims, delayed justice and jeopardized the safety of Americans across our country. Consider Carol Bart, a courageous Dallas woman who recently recounted her ordeal to the Associated Press in hopes of helping other victims. Carol’s rape kit was performed in 1984, but it was not tested for nearly a quarter-century. When the test finally happened, authorities were able to identify her attacker.
Nationwide, the number of untested rape kits is estimated to be at least 180,000 and perhaps as high as 400,000. In Dallas alone, there are roughly 12,000. In Houston, there are more than 6,000. These numbers are unacceptable. When rape kits are left untested for years, victims are denied justice and many decide not to report their attacks. Meanwhile, perpetrators believe their crimes have no consequence.
The Justice for Victims Amendment would go a long way toward alleviating the rape-kit backlog, giving victims the justice they deserve, and keeping dangerous criminals off the streets. It would not add to the federal budget deficit, but it would add to the tools that law enforcement can use to protect ordinary citizens. That’s why it has been endorsed by a range of victim advocacy groups, including TAASA, PROTECT, and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
Congress has an opportunity to make VAWA stronger and more effective. But we won’t be able to produce a genuine bipartisan agreement until Democrats stop exploiting the issue for political gain. The American people deserve results, not reckless demagoguery.
Cornyn, a Republican, is the junior U.S. senator from Texas.