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U.S. Senate Passes Federal Legislation to Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act

Last week, the United States Senate unanimously passed federal legislation that reauthorizes the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the 1994 federal statute has played a vital role in protecting women from the tragedy of violence and abuse.

"I consider passing VAWA to be one of my greatest achievements as a Utah senator," commented Hatch. "This law directly addresses violence against women and is strengthening our families, our communities, and our nation."

The original act and subsequent legislation created new criminal penalties for federal interstate domestic violence, stalking and firearms crimes, explained the Utah senator.

In addition, the statute strengthened federal penalties for repeat sex offenders and required states and territories to enforce protection orders issued by other states.

The act is scheduled to expire in 2005 and the legislation passed by the U.S. Senate, S-1197, would reauthorize and expand the targeted programs for five additional years.

"The problem of violence against women does not always get the attention it deserves," pointed out Hatch. "But VAWA has contributed to decreasing violent crimes against women by 49 percent since 1992"

"Incidents of rape are down 60 percent and attempted rape is down by 57 percent over the same period. And importantly, more women are reporting domestic violence and receiving the necessary legal, financial, and social support they need for protection," continued the Utah senator.

The 1994 law also created the U.S. Office on Violence Against Women.

Currently directed by Diane Stuart of Utah, the office coordinates the federal funds that support rape prevention education, domestic violence intervention programs, battered women's shelters and law enforcement and prosecution services.

Since the federal statute's enactment in 1994, VAWA has provided more than $1.6 billion in grants to help states and local governments train personnel as well as establish domestic violence and sexual assault units that assist victims of violence, noted Hatch.

The 1994 Violence Against Women Act also authorized the legal assistance for victims program.

The federal LAV program has helped Utah Legal Services to provide counsel and advice to 1,226 victims and represent 410 victims in court actions since 2003.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed similar legislation, HR-3402, at the end of September.

A conference committee is scheduled to meet and negotiate a compromise bill that will be considered by U.S. Congress, concluded the Utah senator.

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