Murphy and Courtney speak with leaders about VAWA

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Mon., Feb. 25, 2013
(L to r) Earl Henrichon, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney speak with community leaders about the Violence Against Women Act at a United Services roundtable. Photo by D. Coffey.
(L to r) Earl Henrichon, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney speak with community leaders about the Violence Against Women Act at a United Services roundtable. Photo by D. Coffey.

On Feb. 22, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2) met with community leaders at United Services in Dayville to hear their concerns about the Violence Against Women Act, the authorization of which has been stalled in Congress for the last two years. While the bill passed with bi-partisan support in the Senate, it has been hung up in the House because of three provisions, according to Murphy. Those provisions include protection for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender individuals, undocumented immigrants, and the expansion of tribal court jurisdiction to include domestic and dating violence between non-Indians and Indians that occur within the tribe's jurisdiction. “There was broad support in the Senate for all three provisions,” said Murphy.

“There should be outrage that VAWA has been sitting in Washington for almost two years,” said state Rep. Mae Flexer (D-44). “It's absolutely outrageous. We need the Congress to do their job and finally have a vote on this bill. It passed in the Senate. There's no reason why the House of Representatives can't take it up. One in three women will be a victim of domestic or sexual violence. We need action now.”

VAWA provides federal money for several programs aimed at helping victims of sexual and domestic violence. It provides a cross-section of services and counseling programs, including dedicated prosecutors specifically trained to handle domestic violence cases, law enforcement training programs, and money to fund shelters, transitional housing, and victims’ advocates. “There's no dispute that this is a law that's worked,” said Murphy. “It's absolutely critical to get VAWA passed.”

Millions of dollars go to agencies across the state, according to Flexer. “The tremendous system we've put in place to prevent and prosecute domestic and sexual violence and protect victims, that network would fall apart,” Flexer said. “The state would not be able to replace those resources.”

Domestic Violence Program Manager Diane Moylan-Cooke said the two shelters in the 20-town cachement area in Windham County provide 24 beds. The shelters are always full, she said. Women stay an average of two months at the shelter, but they can be given extensions. “It's hard to become independent in two months,” she said, “especially in a climate where there is no transitional living. The majority of women we serve are not women who are leaving abuse. They don't have the availability to leave. But if they stay they want to learn how to be safe.”

The program also provides assistance with social services, access to food stamps or health insurance for their children. “We can help with applications or tell them where they need to go,” said Moylan-Cooke. “We provide them resources and support.”

One critical program that's dependent on VAWA funding is the victim's advocate program. Advocates help victims through the legal process, explaining options, legal terminologies, and offering support.

“I don't think anything would get done without victim's advocates,” said Willimantic Domestic Violence Center Coordinator Mary Allard. Women are very frightened when they have to go to court, she said. They don't understand all the nuances of the law or the terminology. “What does a standing protective order mean? Does she think her abuser should go for drug and alcohol treatment or spend time in jail? Does she want a residential stay-away? They don't understand the process. It's very complicated. Without victims’ advocates, I don't think men will be held accountable,” Allard said.

Windham County State’s Attorney Patricia Froehlich said that VAWA funds 75 percent of a special prosecutor for domestic violence cases which account for one-third of all cases prosecuted in the state. That prosecutor handles domestic violence cases from beginning to end. Without VAWA funding it would be devastating,” Froehlich said.

U.S. Vice President of Services Earl Henrichon spoke briefly about the complexity of issues related to domestic violence and the programs that are in place to deal with them. Substance abuse, trauma, housing, and mental health issues reflect the repercussions of domestic violence he said. “Without VAWA funding, we wouldn't be able to provide critical components of a safety network,” he said.

“We're lucky in Connecticut,” Flexer said. “We have a delegation that gets it.”

“Domestic violence does not discriminate,” said Froehlich. “For our federal government to be concerned about protecting victims because of some immutable characteristic or preference is just repugnant to our Constitution.”

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