Sen. Brown: With More Than 38,000 Reported Incidences of Domestic Violence in Ohio Last Year, We Must Pass Tough Legislation to Combat Abuse

Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act Would Give Law Enforcement Officials the Tools they Need to Protect the Public, Help Crack Down on Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse, and Combat Cyberstalking

Brown Releases County-by-County Information on Domestic Abuse Incidences in Ohio as He Urges Renewal of Expired Resources

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With more than 38,000 reported incidences of domestic violence in Ohio last year, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today called for passage of tough legislation that would help crack down on domestic violence and abuse, address cyber-stalking, and ensure that law enforcement officials have the tools necessary to safely address incidents of domestic violence. The legislation, which was recently passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 10-8, would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and provide essential resources to state and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It would also give support to critical non-profit organizations that supply essential services for victims and survivors. Brown released county-by-county information on the number of domestic abuse incidences in Ohio.

“The Violence Against Women Act has improved the criminal justice system’s ability to keep victims safe and hold perpetrators accountable. It has been a valuable tool for so many women and their children – and it is vital that we ensure that these services remain intact. But last year, the law expired—and critical efforts that help women and their children protect themselves from domestic violence, stalking, and cyber-threats continue only on a short-term basis,” Brown said. “In 2011, there were more than 38,000 reported cases of domestic violence in Ohio. VAWA helps give these victims and survivors a place to turn to escape violent relationships, or the support to seek legal representation. That’s why reauthorizing VAWA is so important.”

The original VAWA bill expired one year ago, and despite the reauthorization having bipartisan support, it has stalled in the Senate.  Brown was joined today by Katie Hanna, statewide director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence—as well as 2011 Summit County Detective of the Year Vito Sinopoli of the Bath Township Police Department—to detail how VAWA helps state and federal agencies prevent and combat domestic violence, as well as provide support to victims and survivors of abuse. The legislation also includes new programs designed to specifically combat internet stalking and other uses of social media that can lead to domestic violence. According to the Senate Judiciary Committee, since VAWA was originally enacted, reporting of domestic violence has increased as much as 51 percent, as more victims come forward to receive lifesaving services to help them move from crisis to stability.

“With fewer than 40 funded agencies offering rape crisis services throughout Ohio’s 88 counties, it is critical that Congress pass the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization,” Katie Hanna said. “We cannot afford to not fund VAWA. VAWA provides the more than 1 in 6 women and 1 in 71 men who have been raped in their lifetime with access to services that provide survivors with advocates in the hospital after a sexual assault, with support navigating the criminal justice system, and with crisis intervention and advocacy services to empower individuals to move from victim to survivor.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee notes that responding to domestic disturbance calls is particularly dangerous for America’s law enforcement officers: according to the Law Enforcement Officer Deaths Memorial Fund, in 2009, 23 percent of firearms-related deaths involved domestic disturbance calls. In 2010, eight officers were killed responding to domestic violence calls. The FBI reports that of the more than half of a million officers assaulted between 1999 and 2008, 31 percent were on disturbance calls.

“Law enforcement understands the importance of a collaborative effort with regard to the various agencies that work with sexual assault and domestic violence cases.  Our objective is to maintain a survivor-centered approach to sexual assault cases, to do what's best for these individuals, understand that they are survivors, and ensure that they have a support network in place to help them through the process,” Officer Sinopoli said. “In law enforcement, we work closely with rape crisis centers and their advocates, as well as domestic violence advocates.  These partnerships and collaborative efforts are vital in dealing with these types of cases, and VAWA funding supports the collaborative philosophy.  At the state level, VAWA funds have been critical in providing training to over 850 police officers, 30 prosecutors, and hundreds of advocates in Ohio.
“VAWA funds will be more crucial than ever to support sexual assault survivors and to properly train advocates and law enforcement officers who work with them, as well as to continue the provision of programs so important to survivors of these heinous crimes,” Officer Sinopoli continued.

According to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the reauthorization:

•    Recognizes the continuing crisis of inadequate reporting, enforcement, and services for victims of sexual assault, by enhancing funding for the Services-Training-Officers-Prosecutors (STOP) program. The STOP program, according to the U.S. Justice Department, is aimed at improving the criminal justice system's response to violent crimes against women. It encourages the development and improvement of effective law enforcement and prosecution strategies to address violent crimes against women and the development and improvement of advocacy and services in cases involving violent crimes against women.

•    The bill also enhances the Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders program, which encourages state and local governments and courts to treat domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking as serious violations of criminal law requiring coordination with nonprofit, nongovernmental victim advocates and representatives from the criminal justice system.

•    Provides tools to prevent domestic violence homicides by training law enforcement, victim service providers, and court personnel on identifying and managing high risk offenders and connecting high risk victims to crisis intervention services.

•    Improves responses to the high rate of violence against women in tribal communities by strengthening concurrent tribal criminal jurisdiction over perpetrators who assault Indian spouses and dating partners in Indian country.

•    Strengthens housing protections for victims by applying existing housing protections to nine additional federal housing programs.