Nevertheless, the scourge of domestic violence remains a serious problem: One in four women experiences an act of domestic violence or sexual assault in her lifetime, and three women die every day at the hands of abusive husbands or partners. More can and should be done to protect women - particularly those who may be more vulnerable based on race, religion or even immigration status.
Every day in this country, abusive husbands or partners kill three women; and for every victim killed, there are nine more who narrowly escape that fate. On the Utah Domestic Violence Council homepage (http://udvc.org/utah-domestic-violence-information/statistics-reports), there is a quote by Brennan Manning: "Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh when we learn where the outcast weeps."
The UDVC reports that there were 28 domestic violence related deaths in Utah between July 2010 and June 2011. During that same time period 1,953 permanent protective orders and 204 civil stalking injunctions were granted; 3,751 domestic violence criminal charges were filed; and 2,224 women, 45 men, and 1,958 children were sheltered in 16 emergency domestic violence shelters in Utah. While these numbers are shocking, they would be much higher without the resources made available through VAWA.
VAWA was last reauthorized in 2006 but has now expired while partisan battles over competing House and Senate versions have kept Congress from granting reauthorization of this important law. The Senate passed a broad bi-partisan reauthorization bill, S.1925; but instead of debating and voting on the Senate version, the House passed its own bill, H.R. 4970, putting reauthorization on hold pending a conference agreement. The political spat seems to be focused on Senate VAWA extensions that will protect victims regardless of their immigration status or sexual orientation. I am concerned that the House seeks to turn a bipartisan effort to protect victims into a partisan wedge. This is a particular concern given the alarming number of immigrant women being illegally trafficked. Roughly 100,000 survivors of human trafficking live in the United States today with as many as 17,500 foreign-born victims illegally brought in each year. These outcasts often weep alone and unheard.
When the House sought reauthorization, legislators made changes that dramatically roll back important protections for battered immigrant women and their children — leaving them vulnerable to abuse and, worse, death at the hands of an abuser. Several H.R. 4970 provisions would further endanger immigrant survivors of human trafficking and domestic abuse, leaving them no legal way to break the cycle of violence in which they are trapped and preventing law enforcement from bringing perpetrators to justice. The changes, for example, would discourage immigrant survivors from calling the police, for fear of immigration issues — so police can’t intervene and save their lives.
For many of these women, immigration status is one more weapon that abusers use to intimidate them. Abusers often threaten, “You can’t call the police. They’ll just deport you.”
Under the existing law, our response is clear: “He’s wrong. You’re safe.” If we certify that a victim was helpful to law enforcement during an investigation, she can seek special legal immigration status — known as a U visa. But H.R. 4970 would make this visa temporary and take away an immigrant survivor’s incentive to come forward. “He’s wrong; you’re safe” would be replaced with the far less reassuring message “You’ll have to wait and see.”
In late August, we received a reminder of reauthorization’s urgency. Our immigration authorities announced that they had reached the limit of 10,000 U visas for the current fiscal year, leaving a six-week gap before the new fiscal year brings a fresh allotment. In the meantime, lives are at risk. I urge Congress to stop bickering and adopt the Senate’s bipartisan reauthorization bill which, among other protections, would increase that visa limit to 15,000 - a significant boost to public safety.
The law enforcement community now has 18 years of experience with the Violence Against Women Act and has used it successfully to combat human trafficking, sexual assault and domestic violence. We have relied on it to protect survivors of all stripes and hold their abusers accountable. These abusers don’t differentiate by race, creed, color, religion or immigration status. In seeking justice for survivors, neither should we.