In this country, four women die every day -- more than 1,000 dead each year -- at the hands of a husband or boyfriend. Even more troubling is this: Fifty percent of the men who abuse their wives or girlfriends also abuse their children.
Violence breeds violence, trapping both perpetrators and victims in a tragic and vicious cycle. Of the girls who witness violence in their homes, more than half will become victims when they grow up. And for boys, witnessing domestic violence is the single best predictor of juvenile delinquency and adult criminality.
These statistics come from a resolution adopted by the National Association of Attorneys General, urging Congress to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act.
Adopted originally in 1994 as part of the administration's comprehensive crime bill, VAWA was designed to combat domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking by combining tough new criminal penalties with programs to prosecute offenders and aid victims. The passage of VAWA sent a clear message across this country: Violence against women is not only wrong, it is a crime.
In the last six years, VAWA has produced startling results, saving the lives of countless women and holding offenders accountable for their crimes. Between 1993 and 1998, violent domestic offenses against women declined by 21 percent. But as long as the lives of any women and children are threatened, there is work to be done.
This week, at the White House, I was joined by an unusual coalition of law enforcement officers and lawmakers from both parties, standing together with a common goal -- the reauthorization of VAWA.
For 30 years, I have worked to strengthen families and bring an end to violence against women and children. I remember a time, not so long ago, when the phrase "domestic violence" was whispered only by a few brave activists and survivors. Women were ashamed of their victimization, and many went to great lengths to hide their bruises and other evidence of violence and abuse. Even when they revealed their secrets, most had no safe place to go. Only the lucky ones had family or friends to hide them and offer shelter and food.
But recent studies show that VAWA has worked -- helping to increase resources, change attitudes, and take critical strides toward combating domestic violence. As intended, VAWA has offered protection to victims and punishment to offenders.
Under VAWA, $1.5 billion in federal funds has been spent on programs like George Washington University Law School's Domestic Violence Advocacy Project. There, law students work with hospital emergency room personnel 24 hours a day, and are ready to respond to the legal needs of battered women.
In many states, funds have been used to train police officers in domestic violence investigations. Two counties in Delaware are focusing on the often-neglected elderly victim. In Fayette County, Ky., Sheriff Kathryn Witt has used VAWA funding to create a "zero tolerance" unit that serves emergency protective orders within 12 hours, the period when women are most vulnerable.
In Huntsville, Ala., domestic violence advocates accompany police officers on calls to provide immediate assistance to women in danger. And in Maryland, the state's attorney general, J. Joseph Curran Jr., helped create a statewide Family Violence Council that, with the help of judges, law enforcement personnel and other experts, is working to improve responses to violence against women.
Violence is an issue for women of all ages and backgrounds, races and religions, communities and countries. Last week, I joined representatives from all over the world who came to New York to celebrate the strides made since the Fourth World Conference on Women five years ago. As we assessed our progress since Beijing, domestic violence was one issue that delegates raised over and over again.
We spoke with pride of our progress. But we also acknowledged that we cannot yet claim victory. In this country alone, nearly one-third of the women murdered each year are killed by husbands or boyfriends. One million women are stalked. In 1998 alone, 300,000 were raped or otherwise sexually assaulted. And law enforcement officers still don't have the resources they need to punish every criminal who hurts a woman.
The reauthorization of VAWA is a priority for our law enforcement community. It is a priority for this administration. And most importantly, it is a priority for women and their families.
When Congress passed VAWA, they threw a lifeline to abused women. Now is not the time to yank it back. Now is the time for members on both sides of the aisle to stand up for women and vote to reauthorize this life-saving legislation.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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