This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Again last week, I tallied the numbers the raw data of sexual violence in our community. This is the dark reality of it all, in black and white: a high schooler raped by her stepfather; a woman with a mental disability, raped by her date; another woman whose husband beat and raped her for a whole day and night.
The numbers fill one computer screen after another.
I cull this data each quarter of the fiscal year as part of reporting duties for federal grants that support victims of crime. And at this moment, the future of one of those grant programs through the Violence against Women Act is shaky.
Introduced in 1994 by then U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, VAWA provides funding to states and municipalities for improving criminal justice and victim advocate response to cases of sexual violence, domestic abuse, dating violence and stalking.
Since the act's passage, the Justice Department reports annual incidents of domestic violence have dropped by 60 percent. For the first time, under the act, rape victims were allowed greater legal protections in prosecuting their attackers, creating more incentive for women to report the crimes.
With the aid of VAWA-supported special law enforcement units, dangerous and repeat offenders have gone to jail. (We applaud this provision especially in Utah, where rates of sexual assault outpace the national numbers. Nationally, one in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lives; in Utah, it's one in three.)
But VAWA must be routinely renewed by Congress. And unfortunately, in an election year when partisan bickering and polarization punctuate U.S. politics, this is the year for reauthorization. On April 25, after a protracted battle, the Senate voted 68-31 to reauthorize more than $650 million in programs under VAWA.
The fight now moves to the House, where probably based on public perception that conservatives are fueling a "war on women" Republican women are introducing their own version of VAWA. Like the bill that stalled in the Senate, House Republicans are likely to fight Democratic provisions that would protect Native American women by improving prosecutorial powers on reservations and grant more power to tribal justice systems.
Republicans in both bodies have balked at Democrats' insistence that VAWA include increased protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, as well as more visas for immigrant victims of physical and sexual assault.
Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee opposed the Democratic version of VAWA. A friend of VAWA for decades, Hatch said on the Senate floor, "I am truly disappointed the majority has deliberately politicized this reauthorization legislation in a way that they knew would render impossible the kind of bipartisan consensus that this legislation has had in the past."
So, while the political wrangling goes on, organizations like the Rape Recovery Center, the YWCA and domestic violence shelters statewide hope for a trickle of VAWA funding. We are not talking mounds of cash. The Rape Recovery Center's award this year totaled $11,369.
Yet the women mentioned above? A VAWA-funded advocate showed up for each victim, supporting one woman through a grueling hospital rape exam and helping another find temporary shelter so she would be safe from her abuser. Still another woman benefited from the advocate's outreach on her behalf for low-cost legal aid.
Again and again I wade through the bleak bookkeeping of violence toward women. But I do see the victories, and those are worth savoring. Those are worth paying for.
Quite simply, one senator's view of a "politicized" VAWA is a woman's life raft.
Holly Mullen is executive director of the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City and a former columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.