Congresswomen Nita Lowey and Carolyn Maloney joined Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and Liberty Aldrich, the senior director for legal services at Safe Horizon, last Thursday morning to urge Congress to increase funding for civil legal assistance for victims of domestic violence under Lowey’s Access to Safety and Advocacy Act and to re-authorize the landmark Violence Against Women Act before next year.
Since 1994, the VAWA has provided more than $1.5 billion to combat domestic violence and sexual assault against women.
Last May, Lowey introduced the Access to Safety and Advocacy Act.
There are nearly 900,000 violent crimes committed against women by their current or former partners each year.
District Attorney Brown noted that in Queens alone there are as many as 12,000 complaints of domestic violence every year. The complaints, he noted, result in approximately 5,000 arrests.
“It is estimated that as many as 25 percent of all women visiting city hospital emergency rooms are there as the result of violence in the home,” Brown added.
Lowey, a strong advocate for abused women said, “Like so many New Yorkers, I was horrified by the Central Park attacks earlier this year. But, what’s also horrifying is that sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking remain a daily reality for thousands of New York’s women. While intimate partner violence against women fell by over 20 percent from 1993 through 1998, millions of American women continue to suffer because they lack access to civil legal representation.”
Speaking at Thursday’s meeting, Maloney said, “We have a very simple message today. Thousands of New York women continue to suffer from gender-related violence, sexual assault and domestic abuse. The victims of these crimes deserve fair and accessible civil legal services. We need to fight violence against women with vigilance and determination.”
The legislators noted that economic independence and effective protection against a woman’s abuser is “critical to a woman’s ability to break the cycle of domestic abuse.”
But these victims also become economic victims without the ability to afford the necessary legal services that can offer them freedom from their abuser.
Lowey’s new legislation would increase federal funding for legal services for domestic violence and sexual assault victims from its current level of $28 million, to $60 million this year and more than double it by the year 2005.
Brown said, “Domestic violence cases by their very nature demand special attention. Domestic violence prosecutions are unlike other prosecutions because they pose complex emotional and practical issues, often involving young children who witness family violence and abuse, in addition to the legal issues that are present in other cases.”
Brown explained that unlike robbery or burglary cases, where the victim does not know his or her assailant, here the victim not only knows the assailant, but it is the very person who has fathered their children and lives in their home.
In other crimes, the victim will never have to see the assailant again except for the trial. This is not the case with the domestic abuse victim.
“Many women are afraid of retaliation. Many fear breaking up their families or losing their financial support or their homes,” Brown said. “Many are afraid to proceed simply because they are unfamiliar with or intimidated by court procedures and the legal system.
“As a result many victims of domestic violence become reluctant to follow through on complaints in court and the cases must be dismissed. And so, regrettably, the violence and the abuse continues.”
Lowey, Maloney and Brown urged Congress to re-authorize the landmark Violence Against Women Act to help support prosecutors, law enforcement, courts, shelters, support services and prevention programs to help end gender-based violence.
Brown explained that, “A substantial federal VAWA grant has enabled us to establish within our office a special unit dedicated solely to the handling of domestic violence cases. As a result, we are able to give special attention to these prosecutions, to enhance them, to better train our assistants and to provide better outreach and specialized support to victims. It is essential that this funding continue.”
Maloney noted that the VAWA “has been a shining success. It has been a lighthouse in a sea of darkness for countless numbers of battered women. It needs to be re-authorized.”
“If we are serious about empowering women to break the cycle of abuse, we must give them adequate access to legal representation and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act,” Lowey concluded.