MARTINSBURG - Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., spoke out in support of the need for continued federal funding for domestic violence support programs Friday.
The U.S. Senate is debating the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization of 2013, which has been law since 1994. It was the first major federal initiative to combat domestic violence and related crimes.
Rockefeller held a roundtable discussion on the VAWA in the Berkeley County DHHR conference room on Mid-Atlantic Parkway in Martinsburg on protecting families from domestic violence and sexual assault. Advocates, survivors and law enforcement officials from around the state attended.
"We absolutely need to make sure that women and their families are protected from domestic violence and sexual assault, and feel safe in their own homes and communities," Rockefeller said. "Failing to fully reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act is a failure to protect West Virginia families.
"With us today is a group of amazing advocates, survivors and law enforcement officials who work on the frontlines of the battle for our families. They must have our full support," he said.
The Violence Against Women Act addresses domestic violence, sexual assault, and other crimes through formula and competitive grants to state, local and tribal governments, non-profit organizations and colleges and universities.
VAWA expired in 2011 and has yet to be reauthorized by Congress. Rockefeller was a co-sponsor of the original bill in 1994, a co-sponsor of successful reauthorizations of the law in 2000 and 2005 and co-sponsored it again last year.
Despite successful passage in the Senate during the last session of Congress, the Senate's VAWA reauthorization was blocked by the Republican-led House of Representatives. Rockefeller is co-sponsor of the new 2013 reauthorization as well.
"The Violence Against Women Act is monumental legislation that provides critical services to women and children experiencing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking," said Tonia Thomas with the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "Because of VAWA, thousands of West Virginia victims have received lifesaving services and support."
More than 1,300 West Virginians-including more than 500 children-are housed in one of 14 in-state domestic violence shelters that serve all 55 counties.
In 2011, the Family Crisis and Intervention Center in Parkersburg had 3,600 contacts with clients in its eight-county service area in the residential shelter and outside with men, women and children of all ages, said Emily Larkins, director of services for the center, in June 2012.
Without reauthorization, Congress cannot make improvements to VAWA programs to ensure they best meet the needs of the communities, Rockefeller said.
"Everyone deserves to feel safe and secure, and for so many domestic violence survivors, local programs to combat such horrendous abuses and provide support are a lifeboat," Rockefeller said. "I will do everything I can to make sure West Virginia's programs remain available to women in need."
The Senate is expected to vote on the final passage of the VAWA next week.