As a state legislator, I sponsored the Family Violence Protection Act, which has been the primary tool for fighting domestic violence in New Mexico since 1987. As NM Attorney General, I joined my colleagues from the National Association of Attorneys General in sending a letter to Congress asking our nation’s lawmakers to reauthorize the federal Violence Against Women Act, first passed in 1994. The American Bar Association is also urging Congress to approve the continuation of the Act. Protecting women and families from violence and abuse is clearly an ongoing concern for our state and the nation.
A measure that would reauthorize VAWA was recently approved by the Senate with broad bipartisan support. However, the House introduced its own version of VAWA reauthorization as H.R. 4970. This bill contains several provisions that would make it more difficult for immigrant victims of domestic violence to gain protections than current law provides. That bill was amended in committee on May 8, 2012, but because of the proposed rollbacks in victim protections I can not support this version.
Reauthorization is so important because it provides for continuation of vital programs addressing violence against women. To date, the policies and programs supported and inspired by the Act have been credited with providing lifesaving assistance to hundreds of thousands of victims.
In our letter to Congress earlier this year, Attorneys General pointed out to members a U.S. Department of Justice study that showed VAWA has transformed the response to domestic violence at the local, state and federal level. Its successes have been dramatic, with the annual incidence of domestic violence falling by more than 50 percent.
According to the American Bar Association, VAWA has been the single most effective federal effort to respond to the epidemic of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in this country. The act has ensured that legal and social services are available to survivors, and that law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, attorneys and advocates are well-trained and equipped with cutting-edge resources to effectively address these crimes in their own communities.
As law enforcement leaders, we recognize the importance of the Violence Against Women Act because domestic violence very clearly remains a serious problem, not only in New Mexico, but throughout the nation. One in four women in America experience domestic violence or sexual assault, and three women die at the hands of abusive husbands or partners every day.
In addition, human trafficking remains a related pervasive problem. The U.S. government estimates that 100,000 victims of human trafficking live in the United States today, and that as many as 17,500 foreign-born victims are illegally trafficked in from abroad each year. Many, if not most, of these victims are women who are coerced into prostitution and/or other forms of sexual exploitation, and forced labor. We need every available tool to fight these crimes.
Congress reauthorized VAWA twice in the last decade, New Mexico and the nation have a vested interest in seeing that it does so again. I strongly encourage you to contact your Congressional delegation and ask them to support the bipartisan Senate version for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Gary K. King
New Mexico Attorney General