I know October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But the 10th month of the year is another time for reflection on an issue that doesn’t get quite the attention it deserves: Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Frisky has been re-posting some of our past content by our contributor Judy McGuire, a domestic abuse survivor, but we were pleased to see it’s being addressed on a national level, as well.
Today at the White House, Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama made remarks about violence against women, which I’ve transcribed a bit after the jump:Vice President Joe Biden opened the event, which was also attended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “We knew before we held our first hearing about violence against women June 20th, 1990, that there was an epidemic of violence against women,” he began. “This was the dirty little secret that we kept.” At the time, then-Senator Biden asked his staff how best to show the scope of this problem to the public and a female staff member suggested cataloging — in detail — the 2,100 crimes pertaining to violence against women that were reported every week in America. The country then went on to pass the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which, per the Dept. of Justice’s Violence Against Women’s website, facilitated “the creation of programs, policies and practices aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking,” and setting up the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which to this day still takes 22,000 calls per month. “Doing the Violence Against Women Act was the single most significant thing I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “And that’s a fact.” VAWA was reauthorized in both 2000 and 2005.
But there’s still more work to be done. “We need to do more to help women stay safe,” Vice President Biden said. “The most dramatic violent murders occur shortly after the victim tries to leave.” In particular, Biden said, there needs to be better legal representation for victims. Low-income victims, especially, may never see their abuser put behind bars and they’re left in a vulnerable position. “The challenge facing domestic violence victims is not just protective orders but custody and family law,” he pointed out. “Today, I am literally calling on lawyers everywhere. Join us. You will never feel more satisfied, you will never feel more awarded. Never, never, never. There’s thousands who need the help of a lawyer.”
Domestic violence was not Vice President Biden’s only focus: He also repeated the statistic that 1.4 million women are victims of sexual assault each year. While punishing the perps would help, Biden also said more needs to be done to test “rape kits,” the DNA evidence taken from victims by police and medical professionals after the incident. Some rapists may already be behind bars for other crimes, he continued, but testing “rape kits” would link them to sexual assaults which could be easily proven with DNA. (A PDF report called “Eliminating the Rape Kit Backlog” from the Dept. of Justice’s Violence Against Women website can be found here.)
But more than all these changes, Vice President Biden said it’s attitudes that needed to be changed. He cited a depressing-sounding study in which a sizable number of kids said they thought it was OK for boys to hit their girlfriends.
I never would have thought Vice President Biden could be a better orator than President Obama, but at least during this speech, he was. Obama gave Biden much-deserved credit for spearheading the Violence Against Women Act. “As you know, domestic violence was often seen as a private matter,” Obama said, explaining women could leave the hospital without any questions being asked about their injuries, right back into the home with their abusers. He spoke of the “incredible financial and legal challenges that often leave victims of abuse feeling trapped,” which needs to change. “There’s more we can do to help folks restart their lives,” Obama said. Some new efforts include:
- Overcoming financial barriers to help victims of domestic abuse to get back on their feet. Many victims have their credit destroyed by abusers and end up using their savings to cover their legal fees. “No one should have to choose between a violent home and no home at all,” he said.
- Forbid housing facilities to evict victims of domestic violence solely because of the violence.
- Help victims of domestic abuse to find lawyers represent them pro bono (for free).
“The bottom line is this: no one in America should live in fear that they’re unsafe in their own home,” Obama said. “If a victim of abuse reaches out for help, we should all be there to lend a hand. This is not just the job of government, but the job of all of us.”