The ongoing debate over reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, in Congress appears to have taken on new meaning in light of the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Those who advocate on behalf of survivors of sexual assault in Central New York feels lawmaker’s support of a long-term solution will speak volumes about where they stand.
VAWA is set to expire at month’s end, and reauthorization has typically been a simple and bi-partisan process since it was signed into law in 1994. But not this year. Vera House executive director Randi Bregman says the program has brought more than a million dollars in grants to the organization over the last decade to support victims and survivors, as well as educate men to ensure they’re part of the solution to preventing violence. Now Bregman says they’re struggling to make sense of the national news.
"Conversations about what does the #metoo movement really mean, when do we believe survivors, what does it mean if survivors don't come forward immediately, and all of the reasons we in this work and in this room know why they don't. We stand together today to say, if Congress can act in a bipartisan fashion to ensure a comprehensive reauthorization, it will let survivors know that they have been heard, that people care."
Bregman says in the case of Christine Blasey Ford, they at Vera House believe the survivors, regardless of whether her accusations are framed as politically motivated or otherwise.
"She spoke her truth to a therapise five years ago. She shared it with her husband. She then shared it and didn't want to bring it into the public eye...wanted people to be aware of it. And now her life is has been turned upside-down. She and her family had to move outof their home. They've had death threats. Her character has been assassinated. That is the experience of survivor after survivor," Bregman said. "So the one hand says the #metoo movement says, 'me, too.' Find your voice, we know it's happening. We believe you have a right to speak up. But there have been and are consequences."
Bregman says to have a hearing, only to be followed by a vote on Kavanaugh tells her that Senators don’t really want to take the time to listen and fully consider what’s at hand. Meanwhile, survivors like Jolie Moran are watching congress closely for progress on VAWA. The outreach and advocacy program coordinator at Vera House knows firsthand it’s been a pillar of safety and support. Moran is a survivor of rape.
"It has not only provided critical protections for survivors, but has also dedicated federal funds for comprehensive services that promote hope and healing. Additionally, VAWA has helped to fund much-needed prevention educational programming that helps to change the culture that allows for these crimes to occur. For many, VAWA is the difference between life and death."
Congressmember John Katko says he’s making a heavy sales pitch to his colleagues to agree on a comprehensive long-term reauthorization of VAWA that will protect future victims of domestic and sexual violence.