Last week, the U.S. Senate took a major step in finishing what the last Congress left undone when it voted on a wide, bipartisan basis to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
This previously-enacted legislation that has now expired helped bring domestic violence out of the shadows and allowed our nation to address an issue that far too many victims and survivors have battled alone.
Since the Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994, we have made great strides toward reducing domestic violence. In that time period, nonfatal intimate-partner violence has decreased 53 percent, and the number of women who have been killed by an intimate partner has dropped 34 percent.
The legislation changed the way that law enforce- ment and victims' assistance programs respond to domestic violence and pro- vided them with new approaches to protect the vulner- able.
As the co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Victims' Rights Caucus, ensuring that our crime victims' advocates have the tools they need is one of my top priorities. Every day, they are on the frontlines to provide survivors and their families with legal services as well as help them get back on their feet. They need our help to do their critical work, serve as a voice for those who suffered.
Violence is not a far-away issue that we can ignore; it is on our streets and in our classrooms and churches.
Victims of crime are our sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers, and they deserve our help in the aftermath of a crime. Here in our valley, the demand for these services is staggering. In 2012, Mountain Crisis Services in Mariposa and Valley Crisis Center in Merced assisted more than 1,400 victims of domestic and sexual violence.
The majority of services provided are for non-residential support such as legal aid, individual counseling, and children's support groups. However, often longer-term housing assistance is needed to give survivors and their families the time necessary to learn job skills, return to school and become financially independent.
Last year alone, the Marjaree Mason Center in Fresno provided emergency housing for more than 860 women and children. The programs under the Violence Against Women Act provide the center with funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide this critical service.
Some 66 percent of the 924 unmet requests for assistance in California during 2011 were for transitional housing, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. We cannot afford to roll back this program or stall its renewal when such a high need still exists.
We have learned a lot from law enforce- ment and advocates since the law was enacted about what works and what does not. Congress now has a unique opportunity to build on the successes of the last 19 years by passing a reauthorization of the legislation that will add, rather than strip, protections for victims of domestic violence.
In the last Congress, the Violence Against Women Act became embroiled in a partisan charade that put politics first at the expense of vulnerable individuals.
Instead of expanding protections, it would have removed them for immigrant women, Native American women and others who are victims of domestic abuse.
Protecting victims of domestic violence is not a political issue; it's an issue of moral and human dignity.
It is my hope that these high-stakes games have now come to an end. It is time for Congress to show we can pass smart, bipartisan policies rather than merely party-line message pieces.
Now is the time to act. Renewing the law renews our promise that every victim has a safe place to turn in their time of need. The House must quickly adopt this measure and show that protecting victims is a top priority of this Congress.
Costa, D-Fresno, represents the 16th Congressional District, which includes all of Merced County and parts of Madera and Fresno counties, in the House of Representatives.