Just when you thought Congress could not go any lower, it recklessly threatened the safety of women and families in North Carolina by failing to re-authorize the federal Violence Against Women Act.
From its passage in 1994 through 2010, the act helped cut the rate of domestic violence nationwide by 67 percent. It also helped establish a National Domestic Violence hotline, which until last week was responding to over 22,000 calls per month. The act also mandated that victims, no matter their income levels, would not be forced to bear the expense of their own rape exams; strengthened federal penalties for repeat sex offenders; helped communities develop dedicated law enforcement and prosecution units for domestic violence; and helped train more than 500,000 police officers, prosecutors, attorneys and judges each year in domestic violence law and counseling.
Although the Senate passed a bipartisan version in 2012, it included language for protection of same-sex partners, immigrants regardless of their status and Native Americans. The House objected to the new language, preferring to limit protections to only certain groups of women. In short, Congress seeks to establish a means test to receive treatment for rape.
This action is completely at odds with the many people in our community who work hard to make sure families in turmoil can find a safe haven. From county government to schools and churches, the Charlotte area has made great strides in dealing with domestic violence. Under Commissioner Roberts’ leadership, Mecklenburg County made the reduction and prevention of domestic violence a higher priority, bringing it to the same priority level as other public safety programs. This helped remove the stigma of family violence and gave more women the support and resources they need.
Just last month Mecklenburg County celebrated the opening of a new domestic violence shelter, which for the first time since 1979 expands the number of beds and resources available to victims, both women and children. This shelter is operated by Safe Alliance, formerly known as United Family Services, and will provide safe haven, counseling, health care and other services to victims to help restore safety and stability to families fleeing domestic violence. The shelter does not discriminate based on ethnic background, race or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the new shelter will be full almost immediately, but it will provide support and safety to more victims and education to many who continue to work toward the further reduction and elimination of domestic violence.
Both of us worked with many dedicated and concerned citizens to spearhead the capital campaign for this shelter. We are deeply indebted to the board members, staff, volunteers and abuse survivors who have worked with Safe Alliance on this project and throughout the years to build a safer tomorrow for all families. Unfortunately, while our local communities continue to help N.C. families, our leaders in Washington continue to play politics and put their personal agendas ahead of public safety.
An estimated one in three U.S. women have been the victim of domestic violence. Education, awareness and increased protections for victims are critical for providing a path forward. It is time to put aside personal agendas as we work together to end domestic violence for all victims.
Jennifer Roberts is a former chairman of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. Crandall Bowles is chairman of The Springs Company.
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