In March, we recognize the contributions of women to science, law, and culture. And there is much to celebrate, from the glass ceilings shattered by impressive women like Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, and Hillary Clinton to major legislation benefiting women passed in recent years.
Today, there are more women serving in the House of Representatives than ever before. On his first day in office, President Obama enacted the historic Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to ensure the right of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay. And Democrats in Congress are working to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to update the Equal Pay Act to provide more effective remedies to women who are not being paid equal wages for doing equal work.
This year, Women’s History Month began with reauthorization of an important law for millions of women in the U.S. On March 7, President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) S.47, into law. This critically important legislation is being reauthorized to ensure that our nation’s mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends continue to receive resources that help keep them safe from harm. I am proud to be a cosponsor of the bill.
Severe domestic violence remains an all-too-common reality in the United States. Approximately 2.3 million people each year are raped or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. Each day in America, three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner.
Since VAWA was first enacted in 1994, reporting of domestic violence has increased by as much as 51 percent, while the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased 34 percent for women and 57 percent for men. S. 47 reauthorizes this bill, strengthening it through inclusion of important reforms to ensure LGBT, Native American, and immigrant women receive the protections they deserve.
Specifically, the Senate bill ensures the availability of services to all victims of domestic and dating violence, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill also provides authority to Native American tribes to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence-related offenses. Finally, VAWA adds stalking to the list of crimes for which victims can receive protection through the U-Visa program.
While I applaud the passage of VAWA, its reauthorization took far too long. This bill passed the Senate last May, but Republican House leadership refused to bring it to the floor, instead wasting valuable time on an alternative version that deliberately omitted the new protections noted above. This delay allowed VAWA programs to expire at the end of 2012. It was not until early March that Speaker Boehner finally brought S. 47 up for a vote, and only after the House failed to pass his Republican alternate version.
With the programs established through the Violence Against Women Act, no man or woman should be afraid to report domestic or dating violence. Though it took several months, the version of VAWA signed into law Thursday will make our nation safer and better for all of those who live here.