National Crime Victims' Rights Week was in April. It was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Its purpose is to honor victims and bring light to the negative effect of crime on local communities. This year's theme was "Extending the Vision: Reaching Every Victim." While the week was acknowledged throughout Colorado, the message is being lost on our politicians in Washington, D.C.
The Violence Against Women Act was passed by Congress with bipartisan support in 1994. The Act provided funds to support the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women and additional avenues for those victims to seek redress for those crimes. It also established the Office of Violence Against Women as a resource center to reduce violence against women in the areas of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Since the Act was passed, homicides resulting from intimate relationships have fallen 30 percent and the annual rate of domestic violence has fallen 60 percent.
The Act has been deemed successful on many fronts, having addressed the needs of victims and those working with them. It was reauthorized by Congress again in 2000 and 2005, again with broad bipartisan support and little opposition. It was generally considered that Congress "rubber stamped" renewal of the Act, as it was such an effective and important piece of legislation. However that has changed this election year. As we have come to expect from our leaders in Washington, this Act has now become mired in politics, bickering and partisanship.
Democrats in the Senate amended the Act to expand its provisions to include same-sex couples, illegal immigrants and Native American tribes. They have labeled Republicans who now oppose the amended version of the Act as "anti-woman." Republicans have accused the Democrats of using these amendments as a political ploy in an election year and have stated that these amendments will dilute the original purpose of the Act. The amended version of the Act passed the Senate. Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed their own bill, which more closely resembles the original Act. It will be debated once Congress returns from recess.
As is usually the case, both sides have some valid points. However, whatever merit either party's position may have will be lost in the partisan rhetoric of an election year. Regardless of your position on these amendments or your political affiliation, the fact remains that failure of Congress to renew this legislation in some form could endanger victims and extinguish many of the gains that have been made in the past 18 years.
It is fitting that such an important victims' issue was heard during National Crime Victims' Week. I urge you to contact your representative in Washington and tell them to pass the Violence Against Women Act, whether it be in the original form or with amendments. The only way the vision of victims' rights can be extended to everybody is if they can set aside politics and do what must be done.
Scott Turner is an assistant district attorney and candidate for district attorney in the Fifth Judicial District, which includes Summit County.