House passage of violence bill cheered locally

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 28, 2013 

— Victims of domestic violence in Merced and elsewhere applauded Thursday's passage of the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in House of Representatives -- a bill they're hopeful will become federal law.

The act will now go to President Barack Obama to sign. The act, which first became law in 1994 but later expired, has received bipartisan support from the House and the Senate.

Genevieve Bardini-Davis, program director of the Valley Crisis Center, said many programs such as the center's would have "sustained huge cuts if they didn't pass it."

Agencies such as the Valley Crisis Center and law enforcement receive federal funds designated by law to provide services for victims of domestic violence, Bardini-Davis said.

The state of California receives a certain amount of money, which is later allocated to the various centers and programs across the state, she said. The Valley Crisis Center receives about $500,000.

Those funds provide a safety net for the Valley Crisis Center. "It's a huge deal for us," she said.

Many victims can't afford to get an attorney or leave a home where they've been a victim and desperately need help, Bardini-Davis said. "That's why it is important that we have services like ours."

The Valley Crisis Center serves about 1,300 people every year in Merced County. About 1,100 are domestic violence victims while around 200 receive sexual assault services.

At any given time, their emergency shelter houses anywhere between 15 and 24 women and children. The number of victims the center serves has increased in recent years, she said, possibly because word about their services is getting out.

"It could be due to the popularity," she said, adding the center will have been in operation for five years this July.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, co-chairman of the Congressional Victim's Rights Caucus, released a statement shortly after the act's passage. Costa said he supported the act, saying it expands protections for victims and survivors.

He added that it gives victim's advocates and law enforcement the tools necessary to protect vulnerable populations.

"Protecting all crime victims and their families is one of our most sacred obligations," Costa said in the statement. "Today, the House came together to put victims first and to finish the job that was left undone by the last Congress.

"We have come a long way in reducing domestic violence, and this reauthorization gives advocates who are on the frontlines the tools they need to ensure no survivor faces their struggle alone," Costa said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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