ACLU Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, S. 1197
The Honorable Arlen Specter
Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
Washington, D.C. 20510
Re: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 2005 (S. 1197)
Dear Chairman Specter and Ranking Member Leahy,
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to mark-up the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 2005, S. 1197, this week. This bill reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which sunsets on September 30th. VAWA is one of the most effective pieces of legislation enacted to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It has dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women and has provided critical services necessary to support women and children in their struggle to overcome abusive situations. Because VAWA remains an essential tool for combating domestic violence, it is important for Congress to continue the programs established under VAWA 1994 and build on the success of the law. The Violence Against Women Act of 2005 improves current law in several important ways. It would broaden services and outreach to victims of domestic violence; enhance victims' privacy protections; expand housing and economic options; provide immigration protections to victims; and improve economic security for victims. Given these important improvements, we strongly urge you to support the Violence Against Women Act of 2005.
VAWA 2005 Creates Improved Housing Solutions for Victims of Domestic Violence
Living in safe and secure housing apart from her abuser is a key factor in any domestic abuse victim's success in escaping a violent relationship, but victims of domestic and sexual violence experience major barriers in obtaining and maintaining housing independent from their abusers. Studies show that domestic violence is the immediate cause of homelessness for between 22 percent and 57 percent of homeless women. Some women and their children lose their homes when they flee abuse. Other domestic violence survivors become homeless as the result of ""zero tolerance"" housing policies that require the eviction of all members of the household - whether perpetrator or victim- when any crime occurs in the home. Such policies are today too often misapplied to evict innocent victims of domestic violence from federally subsidized housing, thus punishing them for being battered. Victims of domestic violence are thus forced to choose between keeping the abuse secret and risking homelessness. This form of housing discrimination against domestic violence survivors undermines battered women's efforts to successfully separate themselves from the abuse and enhances the danger to them and their children.
In an effort to address the ongoing housing crisis faced by survivors of domestic violence, Title VI of VAWA 2005 would provide funding to create permanent housing options for victims; expand the existing transitional housing program for victims; and ensure that victims living in public housing and Section 8-funded housing can reach out to law enforcement for protection without jeopardizing their housing. The inclusion of the housing provisions of VAWA 2005 is particularly important and timely because of increased reports that victims of domestic violence are experiencing housing discrimination, including evictions from public and subsidized housing, across the country.
VAWA 2005 Improves Economic Security for Victims
The fear of job loss and resultant economic instability prevents many battered women from escaping abusive relationships. Title VII of VAWA 2005 would provide victims with emergency benefits and leave in order to address domestic or sexual violence in their lives. This is an important first step toward ensuring victims the economic security they need to leave their abusers.
Specifically, Title VII of VAWA 2005 would permit eligible employees to take up to 10 days of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Leave is permitted to seek medical or psychological attention, obtain emergency housing, or seek legal or law enforcement assistance. The provision makes clear that an employee would be required to provide reasonable notice to his or her employer, along with certification that the employee or his or her family member is a victim of domestic or sexual violence and that the requested leave is for one of the aforementioned purposes. Employers who refuse to grant the required leave or who retaliate against an employee who seeks such leave, by firing them or otherwise penalizing them, would be subject to a civil action for monetary damages, such as lost wages, employee benefits, public assistance, or other actual monetary losses sustained by the employee as a direct result of the violation. Employees would also be entitled to equitable relief, such as job reinstatement, in appropriate cases.
In order to lessen the economic burden that taking unpaid leave might place on families, Title VII also permits states to use Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) dollars to provide nonrecurring short-term emergency benefits to an individual for the duration of leave described above. Through these provisions, Title VII of VAWA 2005 would enhance survivors' economic security and their ability to effectively address the violence in their lives.
VAWA 2005 Enhances Victims' Privacy Protections
For survivors of domestic violence, the need for informational privacy is particularly acute. Often the safety of a domestic violence victim who has escaped from her abuser hinges on her ability to keep her identity and location confidential. An abuser can use insecure information to track down and further victimize a survivor, and this risk of exposure and retaliation may make survivors less likely to access emergency housing, health care, and other supportive services. VAWA 2005 directly responds to these concerns by providing resources to enhance privacy protections for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual violence, and stalking. These protections range from improvements in protocols, procedures, and policies, to incentives to develop more advanced technology and database systems to protect personally identifying information.
VAWA 2005 Improves Services and Outreach to Victims of Domestic Violence
VAWA makes it possible for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to access the services they need to escape from violence. It promotes a coordinated approach to domestic violence, one that brings together federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and service providers. Specifically, Title II of VAWA 2005 would provide education, training, and enhanced services to end violence against immigrant, rural, disabled, and older women. These segments of the population are particularly vulnerable to violence due to several factors: geographic isolation and resulting inability to access victim services; physical, economic, social, or psychological dependence on others; and language barriers. Title II also increases the resources allocated to support the national domestic violence hotline.
In addition, VAWA 2005 continues the STOP (Services and Training for Officers and Prosecutors) grants program, which brings police, prosecutors, and victim service providers into close collaboration with one another and works to ensure increased victim safety and support. VAWA 2005 also provides for grants to police departments for enforcement of protection orders, a proven and necessary tool for increasing victim safety. And, in order to ensure that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking victims have adequate legal representation, VAWA 2005 would increase support for programs that provide legal assistance.
VAWA 2005 Provides Immigration Protections to Victims
Immigrants who are victims of domestic violence face tremendous obstacles when they attempt to flee abusive relationships. The situation is exacerbated when the abusive partner controls the immigration status of the family and uses the threat of deportation to prevent battered immigrant women from seeking help. Recognizing the multiple problems faced by immigrant domestic violence victims, Congress included immigration provisions in VAWA 1994 and VAWA 2000. These provisions were designed to remove obstacles presented by immigration law that prevent immigrant victims from safely fleeing domestic violence. Crucially, VAWA 2000 allowed victims to obtain immigration relief without their abusers' cooperation or knowledge in certain instances. Although these changes in the law have helped to reduce violence against immigrant women, more remains to be done to prevent VAWA-eligible victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, or human trafficking from being deported and to provide an economic safety net for those immigrant victims trying to escape violent situations. Title VII of VAWA 2005 proposes changes to enhance the effectiveness of the immigration relief provided to victims under VAWA 2000. These provisions would implement policies to stop the deportation of immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking; extend immigration relief to all victims of family violence; guarantee economic security for immigrant victims and their children; and provide an economic safety net for trafficking victims.
VAWA 2005 is a landmark piece of legislation that makes great inroads toward ending violence against women. We strongly urge you to support the Violence Against Women Act of 2005. The lives of battered women and children depend on your support of this important legislation.
LaShawn Y. Warren
CC: Senate Judiciary Committee
 See Emily J. Martin & Naomi S. Stern, Domestic Violence and Public and Subsidized Housing: Addressing the Needs of Battered Tenants Through Local Housing Policy, 38 Clearinghouse Rev. J.L. & Pol'y. Nos. 9-10, at 552 (Jan.-Feb. 2005).
 See Brief of Amici Curiae National Network to End Domestic Violence et al., U.S. Dep't of Hous. & Urban Dev. v. Rucker, 535 U.S. 125 (2002) (Nos. 00-1771 & 00-1871).