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Last week’s vote in Congress to reauthorize passage of the Violence Against Women Act was a welcome and overdue development. President Barack Obama should sign the law as soon as possible.
The newly passed legislation creates and expands federal programs to assist local communities with law enforcement and aiding victims of domestic and sexual abuse. The measure offers new protections for gay, bisexual or transgender victims of domestic abuse.
The law was initially enacted in 1994, but lapsed in 2011 and had been caught up in politics ever since. The Senate passed a version of the legislation in January. The passage by the House of Representatives last week, with significant bipartisan support, sealed the deal, setting aside as much as $660 million annually over the next five years for programs to help women who are victims of crime, abuse and sexual assault.
The myth that domestic violence doesn’t affect Jews has long been debunked. “You Are Not Alone” screams the educational posters found on the bathroom stalls of synagogues across the area.
According to the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia, which produces the posters as part of its Domestic Violence Intervention and Prevention Program, the incidence of domestic violence in the Jewish community mirrors that in the general community: It affects one in four women and one in seven men. Similarly disturbing statistics apply to teenage relationships.
Furthermore, Jewish victims tend to stay in an abusive relationship for 5 to 15 years longer than victims in other communities. And, not surprisingly, domestic violence occurs across the denominations and in all socio-economic levels.
The bill’s passage was welcomed by several Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federations of North America, which applauded Congress for “recognizing the importance of protective measures to effectively reduce and prevent domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.” The group noted that from 1994 to 2010, when the law was initially in effect, the U.S. Department of Justice found that partner violence decreased by 64 percent.
It is fitting that the legislation passed one week before International Women’s Day, when issues of women’s equality and quality of life are highlighted in much of the world.
Although the March 8 observance makes few ripples in this country, it is legislation like this that reminds us that issues of equality, along with basic safety and security, are still a distant dream for many women. l