By Learned Foote — Talk Radio News Service
June 10, 2009
Today, in a hearing before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, a panel of expert witnesses testified to the necessity of reauthorizing the “Violence Against Women Act”, a law passed by Congress in 1994, and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. The panelists argued that reauthorization is necessary to improve services offered to victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse, and to strengthen the ability of law-enforcement officials to combat crime.
“Everyday VAWA funding makes a difference in how communities across America assess, assist, and protect victims,” said Catherine Pierce, acting Director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women.
Some witnesses affirmed that work remains to be done to increased funding for rural and under-served communities.
“I was raped in a wealthy community, with an adequately funded and staffed rape crisis center,” said actress Gabrielle Union, who testified as an advocate for victims of sexual assault. She said that disparate resources varying from neighborhood to neighborhood create a “parallel universe of justice,” and that all victims should have adequate protection.
Karen Tronsgard-Scott, Director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said that: “Women, children and men are actually on waiting lists to receive treatment and therapy after sexual assault. The Violence Against Women Act is working, but the job is not done.”
The hearing also addressed the issue of DNA testing sexual assault suspects. The American Civil Liberties Union criticized parts of the 2005 re-authorization of VAWA. The ACLU argues that the tests violate the Fourth Amendment, since the samples are collected before suspects are convicted. The Fourth Amendment protects U.S. citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.
“DNA is a very useful tool in identifying suspects,” said Sally Wolfgang Wells, Chief Assistant of the Maricopa County, Arizona Attorney’s Office. “There are a number of crimes that seem to be precursors or associated with sexual crimes, like burglary, petty theft, other kinds of felonies like that. Many states are expanding their DNA testing to those offenders as well, so that - like I said - if we can identify them early and stop even one sexual assault, it’s worth it.”
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, said that the bill has bipartisan support, and will “continue to serve as a powerful tool to combat violence perpetuated against women and families."
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