December 12, 2011

Whitehouse Voices Support for Renewal of Domestic Violence Law

Cosponsors Bill that Includes His Legislation to Address Teen Dating Violence

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse expressed his support for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by signing on as a cosponsor of legislation to reauthorize the landmark domestic violence prevention law. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act would make a number of updates to strengthen VAWA, and renew the law’s authorization for five years.

The bill includes legislative language authored by Whitehouse to prevent dating violence among teenagers, originally introduced as the Saving Money and Reducing Tragedies through Prevention Act of 2011, or the SMART Prevention Act.

“As Rhode Island’s Attorney General, I saw first-hand how the Violence Against Women Act protects victims of domestic violence, provides crucial services to those in need, and holds batterers accountable,” said Whitehouse. “I also know that too many of our teens are exposed to physical and emotional abuse at an early age, and I am pleased that VAWA will now provide our communities with the resources to prevent violent behavior before it starts.”

The Violence Against Women Act funds law enforcement efforts as well as educational and social programs to prevent domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. In addition to the Whitehouse teen dating violence provisions, the reauthorization bill makes several updates to the law, including an expanded focus on sexual assault; new tools to identify and manage high-risk offenders and prevent domestic violence homicides; more robust housing protections for victims; and new measures to promote accountability in the use of VAWA funds. VAWA was last reauthorized in 2005.

Earlier this year Whitehouse chaired a Judiciary subcommittee field hearing in Rhode Island to examine the problem of teen dating violence. The SMART Prevention Act, introduced after the hearing, would establish a new grant program under VAWA for domestic violence and sexual assault education, explicitly focused on children exposed to violence in the home, and on students in middle school. The bill would also support programs to train youth mentors and coordinate services for victims.

“Senator Whitehouse’s leadership on violence against women has been steadfast throughout his years in public service, and his commitment to reauthorizing this important legislation is commendable,” said Deborah DeBare, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “We are so proud that Senator Whitehouse takes these issues so seriously and is willing to champion them in the Senate.”

“The SMART Prevention Act will sustain the work we have started in Rhode Island to provide schools with the educational programming so students and parents can recognize the signs of teen dating violence but also act to be proactive and prevent this serious issue,” said Ann Burke, who testified at Whitehouse’s hearing and serves as President of the Lindsay Ann Burke Memorial Foundation. “By successfully getting this teen dating violence prevention program into the larger Violence Against Women Act, Senator Whitehouse will affect the lives of teens and adults for years to come.”

“We know that children who are exposed to even one type of violence are at far greater risk of experiencing other types of violence, including teen dating violence and then domestic violence,” said Esta Soler, President of Futures Without Violence. “As Congress considers reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, we’re particularly grateful to Senator Whitehouse for his attention to community-based prevention programs and educational programs that meet the needs of children and youth who are exposed to violence.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 10 percent of students across the country have reported being physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year.

The SMART Prevention Act is supported by the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Futures Without Violence, Jewish Women International, Men Can Stop Rape, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the National Center for Victims of Crime, and the Love is Not Abuse Coalition


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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921