Blumenthal Gives Senate Floor Speech On The Reauthorization Of The Violence Against Women Act

(Washington, D.C.) – Yesterday evening, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) delivered a speech on the U.S. Senate floor urging Congress to swiftly reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Video of the speech is available for download here. A transcript is below.   

“Thank you, Mr. President. 

“I want to thank, first of all, my colleague Senator Harkin for his leadership on the Family and Medical Leave Act, along with my predecessor, Chris Dodd's, very strong dedication to this cause and the historic difference that he and Senator Harkin have made on a really transformative measure for the United States of America. The Family and Medical Leave Act has made a difference in so many lives and shaped so many futures for the better in our nation. And I will be honored to join his resolution and to support Senator Durbin's Family and Medical Leave Act inclusion and simply offer my thanks to him on behalf of Connecticut as well as the country for his leadership on this issue. This measure is about human beings and the values that define us and make us great as a nation, the greatest nation in the history of the world. And so is the measure that we have approved today to move forward: the Violence Against Women Act. Insofar as it defines us, states our values and articulates the vision that we see of our nation as caring for people who are victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. 

“I'm proud of my colleagues for approving this measure today to go forward by an overwhelming bipartisan vote: 85-8. And I hope that this day will be followed by final passage here and then in the House of Representatives, avoiding the fate that befell it during the last session, when I similarly supported this measure to reauthorize and strengthen a bill that has served us well for 18 years. It served us well in addressing a problem that is as horrific and heinous as any that afflicts our society: domestic violence and sexual assault – shape futures and transform lives for the worse, unless they are followed by the services and law enforcement that VAWA provides. 

“VAWA is about the organizations that provide those services and need the support in Connecticut and around the country, organizations in Connecticut that provide services to 54,000 victims of domestic violence and sexual assault every year. Our state alone, $4 million, provides those critical services to men and women and children so that they can survive and even thrive after domestic assault. We've made great strides on this problem, but there is great work still to be done. We cannot be complacent or overconfident. We cannot be self-satisfied. We must press ahead with VAWA. And that is why today's passage is so important. At least passage of the motion to proceed. 

“Groups and organizations in Connecticut report to me about critical staff shortages, resources that they need to respond to the hundreds of thousands of women every year that face these problems. And the protection they provide to children as well as to women who are victims of this crime. I have been very privileged to join with Interval House, in an effort called Men Against Domestic Violence, Men Make a Difference. Men are potentially the role models and we've tried to provide those role models going into schools and providing education, a group of men that are educators, police, other kinds of leaders in their community in business and provide that kind of role model, which we helped to start through Interval House, our major domestic [violence] shelter in the state. Only a small example of how these efforts can have a ripple effect through VAWA.

"We need to not only renew our commitment to end domestic violence but also to update and strengthen and expand the Violence Against Women Act. I'm pleased to join my colleague, Senator Portman, to offer an amendment that strengthens services for children and youth victims of sex trafficking. Yes, sex trafficking and human trafficking continue to exist in this nation. Sometimes invisible, unknown. One of the most heinous crimes imaginable – modern-day slavery, unspeakable indenture of children. And we need to do more to ensure that children in our communities who are victims of sex trafficking have access to the lifesaving services that are available to other youth victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.

"We can make sure that agencies and organizations that provide these services access grant funding available for this purpose and, again, this goal ought to be bipartisan. It is with Senator Portman and myself on this amendment. And I hope that my colleagues will support it. Vulnerable communities ought to receive this same kind of protection from VAWA even though they are now overlooked by existing law, and those protections should be expanded. 

“We have an obligation to ensure all victims of domestic violence, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identification, are covered by this law. And so this legislation contains protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans. The LGBT community ought to know that it is covered in the same way as every other part of our population, even though they face discrimination that prevents them from accessing those victim services now. In fact, a recent survey found that 45 percent of LGBT victims were turned away when they sought help from a violence center. That is simply unacceptable. 

“So this legislation will make sure that they have access to these services and also make great improvements in the law enforcement tools available to Native American communities. Our nation's tribal communities are literally facing an epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault. Nearly three out of five Native American women are assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners, and one-third of all Native American women will be raped during their lifetime. 

“I know those statistics are hard to grasp. They seem incredible. Three out of five Native American women are assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners, one-third of all Native American women will be raped during their lifetime. I wish they were wrong. I'd be happy to be corrected. But those numbers tell a searing, unacceptable truth about our nation: tribal courts currently cannot prosecute domestic violence crimes against Native American women that are committed on tribal lands by a non-Native American. And S.47 closes that loophole so that all Native American women will have access to justice. 

“Finally, the 2000 reauthorization of VAWA contained landmark provisions to protect immigrant victims of domestic violence, and S.47 significantly maintains and expands those provisions, sending a strong message that immigrant women deserve the full protection of the law, the full measure of American justice, the reason they have come to this country, the reason that millions of immigrants come to this country, the reason that we are a nation of immigrants and strong because of the diversity and the talent that the they bring to this nation. We must guarantee justice to immigrant women. 

“So I am still frustrated and disappointed that the last Congress did not approve VAWA, that this measure was stalled in the House of Representatives, despite a similarly bipartisan vote in this body to approve it. I hope that this year, this vote in this body will be a prelude to bipartisan approaches on this measure and others where basic human values are at stake, that there will be no stalling again, that this measure will proceed in the House on a similarly bipartisan basis, an inclusive, bipartisan VAWA should not be postponed. 

“Time is not on the side of victims. They need these services. Law enforcement needs the support to make sure that anyone committing domestic violence or sexual assault in this country is held responsible and accountable, and that we send that message to women and children throughout this country. 

“Thank you, Mr. President.”