Sen. Franken Votes to Protect Victims of Sexual Violence
Legislation Authored by Senator Included in Violence Against Women Act
Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) voted to pass the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) to help protect women who are victims of sexual and domestic violence. The legislation, which Sen. Franken spent several months working on in the Senate Judiciary committee, includes two key provisions he authored that will provide critical protections to victims of sexual violence. Sen. Franken spent several months working on VAWA with his colleagues in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Franken’s Housing Rights for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence provision would make it unlawful to evict a woman from federally-supported housing just because she is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. His Survivors of Sexual Assault provision ensures that survivors of sexual assault are never forced to pay for their own rape kits. Both provisions were incorporated into today’s bill. You can read more about the bill here.
“The passage of this bill sends a message: domestic violence no longer will be tolerated in America,” said Sen. Franken. “It’s unconscionable to think that someone could be evicted from her home because she was the victim of sexual violence, or that a victim of sexual assault would be forced to pay for her own rape kit. When this bill becomes law, the provisions I wrote will ensure that survivors of sexual assault will never suffer the indignity of paying for forensic medical exams and that women won’t be evicted from their homes when they’re most vulnerable – when they need a roof over their heads the most.”
Sen. Franken delivered a speech on the need to pass VAWA this afternoon on the Senate floor, you can read the speech below and find video here.
Sen. Franken presided over the Senate's vote on VAWA, which passed by a margin of 68 to 31.
As Prepared for Delivery
STATEMENT ON THE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN REAUTHORIZATION ACT
Senator Al Franken
Madame President, when my wife Franni and I decided that I should run for the Senate, we were greatly influenced by the example set by Sen. Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila. The Wellstones’ example serves as a constant reminder of what public service is all about – it’s about helping others; it’s about giving a voice to those who otherwise might go unheard; it’s about making the law more just and more fair, especially for those who need its protections the most.
Franni and I have a personal responsibility to carry on the Wellstones’ legacy. We all do. And you know what? I think that Paul and Sheila would be proud of what we’re doing here today: we’re on the verge of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.
Paul and Sheila were extraordinary people. An unlikely couple, Sheila was born in Kentucky to Southern Baptist parents, and Paul was born here in Washington, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. But love and fate – they work in mysterious ways, and they brought Paul and Sheila together: Sheila’s family moved to Washington, where she and Paul became high school sweethearts.
Paul went to North Carolina for college, and Sheila went back to Kentucky. But a freshman year apart was more than they could bear. Sheila moved to North Carolina to be with Paul. They got married. A year later, they were proud parents. They eventually would have two more children – the Wellstones were a big, happy family.
After Paul earned his Ph.D. in political science, the Wellstones moved to Minnesota, where Paul had a successful teaching career at Carleton College. Sheila, meanwhile, worked two jobs: she was a full-time mother and a part-time library aide. A happy family life in Minnesota would have been enough for most people. But not for Paula and Sheila. Their compassion knew no limits; they wanted to make the world a better place for others. And they set out to do just that.
Paul ran for public office. He and Sheila worked as a team during Paul’s Senate campaign – as they did in all other aspects of their lives. Paul’s opponent outspent him by a large margin, but what Paul and Sheila lacked in resources, they made up for with grassroots support, a tireless work ethic, an unparalleled commitment to the people of Minnesota – and quite a bit of charMadame Improbable as it must have seemed at the outset, Paul won: he was elected to the United States Senate in 1990.
So the Wellstones went to Washington – the city where they first fell in love. At the time, Sheila wasn’t really a public figure – at least she didn’t view herself as such. In fact, she was a bit shy, and she avoided public speaking when she could. But Sheila started spending time at women’s shelters in Minnesota and elsewhere, listening to painful stories about domestic violence and assault. She realized that there were a lot of women across the country who needed a voice – who needed someone to speak up for theMadame
Sheila set out to become that person. Here’s what she said: “I have chosen to focus on domestic violence because I find it appalling that a woman’s home can be the most dangerous, the most violent, and, in fact, the most deadly place for her. And if she is a mother, it is dangerous for her children. . . . It’s time that we tell the secret; it’s time that we all come together to work toward ending the violence.”
Sheila matched her words with actions. She became a champion for survivors of domestic violence in Minnesota and throughout the country. Each year, she hosted an event at the Capitol to raise awareness about the issue; that annual event continues to this day. And, like I said, Sheila and Paul were a team, so Sheila worked very closely with Paul to champion the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark federal law that affirmed our nation’s commitment to women’s safety.
Signed into law in 1994, VAWA increased the number of beds and shelters that were available to women who needed refuge. It provided critical support to law enforcement officers and prosecutors so they could respond more effectively to incidents of domestic violence. It funded support services and crisis centers for victims. And, perhaps most importantly, VAWA sent a message: domestic violence no longer will be tolerated in America.
Since VAWA was enacted, incidents of domestic violence have been reduced significantly. VAWA has improved lives. It has saved lives. It is part of the Wellstones’ proud legacy.
VAWA is part of this institution’s legacy, too. When it comes to violence against women, members of the Senate always have been able to come together. VAWA has been reauthorized twice. Both times, it had unanimous support in the Senate – unanimous support. The VAWA reauthorization bill that we’re considering today is in keeping with VAWA’s bipartisan tradition. Its 61 sponsors come from across the country – and from across the aisle. I am grateful to Senators Leahy and Crapo for their leadership on this bill.
The VAWA Reauthorization Act renews our national commitment to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual assault, a heinous crime that remains all too common in America, even while domestic violence is becoming less common.
The VAWA Reauthorization Act addresses the alarming rates of violence against women in Indian Country by giving tribes jurisdiction to prosecute acts of domestic violence in their communities.
And the VAWA Reauthorization Act cuts red tape and spending by consolidating grant programs and improving accountability measures.
This is a good bill. I am proud to support it.
I’m also proud to have written two of its provisions. I’d like to thank Chairman Leahy for inviting me to do so and for including these provisions in the final bill.
First, the VAWA reauthorization bill includes a provision from the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act, one of the first bills I wrote after being sworn in to the Senate. When this bill becomes law, survivors of sexual assault never again will suffer the indignity of paying for forensic medical exams.
VAWA provides state and local governments with funding to administer these exams, which also are known as rape kits and are used to collect evidence in sexual assault cases. The problem is that, under current law, grant recipients can charge the survivor for the up-front cost of administering the exam, leaving the survivor to seek reimbursement later. Too often, survivors aren’t reimbursed – they get lost in a maze of paperwork or are left high and dry when funds run out.
Can you imagine if we required crime victims to pay for the police to gather evidence – like fingerprints or DNA – from a crime scene? Of course not. And we shouldn’t require victims of sexual assault to pay for rape kits.
This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s common sense. I’m grateful to Senator Charles Grassley – the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member – for his ongoing support for this bill. He was an original co-sponsor when I introduced it in 2009 and when I reintroduced it last year.
Survivors of sexual violence have endured enough already. They should not have to pay for rape kits. And they won’t have to once this bill becomes law.
The VAWA reauthorization bill also includes the Housing Rights for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence Act, legislation that I introduced with Senators Collins and Mikulski last fall. This bill will help women stay in their homes when they are most vulnerable – when they need a roof over their heads the most.
The link between violence and homelessness is undeniable. By one account, nearly 40 percent of women who experience domestic violence will become homeless at some point in their lives – nearly 40 percent. Once a woman becomes homeless, she becomes even more vulnerable to physical or sexual abuse. In my state, nearly one-in-three homeless women is fleeing domestic violence, and half of those women have children with theMadame That’s not the world that Sheila Wellstone envisioned. Nobody should have to choose between safety and shelter.
While the link between violence and homelessness is undeniable, it’s not unbreakable. We need shelters and transitional housing programs for women who are fleeing danger. And the VAWA reauthorization bill provides continued support for those programs.
But there also are things we can do to prevent women from becoming homeless in the first place. My Housing Rights legislation will make it unlawful to evict a woman from federally-subsidized housing just because she is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
This bill is for the mother of two in California who received an eviction notice after police responded to an incident of domestic violence in her federally-subsidized housing unit. It’s for the mother of four in Minnesota who was denied access to a Low Income Housing Tax Credit apartment because her husband had committed acts of violence against her. This bill is for every woman who has hesitated to call the police to enforce a protective order because she was afraid that she’d be evicted from her home if she did so.
I am grateful to the many wonderful organizations that have worked with me on this bill. They include victims’ advocacy groups, like the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Minnesota Domestic Abuse Project. They include tenant advocacy groups, like the National Low Income Housing Coalition. They include legal aid societies, like Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance. And they include leaders of the housing industry, too.
In fact, I recently received a letter from the National Association of Realtors, the Institute for Real Estate Management, and other housing industry representatives expressing their support for this bill. They wrote that they “believe that preserving housing for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking . . . is critically important.” I could not agree more, and that’s exactly what this bill does.
MADAME President, Sheila Wellstone isn’t with us today. She and Paul and their daughter Marcia were tragically taken from us too soon. But Sheila’s example is with us. Her legacy is with us. Her words are with us. And I’d like to close with those. Here’s what she said:
“[W]e really have to look at the values that guide us[.] . . . [W]e have to work toward[ ] an ethic that respects every individual, to be physically and emotionally safe. . . . [N]o one, regardless of age, color, gender, background – any other factor – deserves to be physically or emotionally unsafe. . . . In a just society, we pledge to act together to ensure that each individual is safe from harMadame . . . In a just society – I think we have to say this over and over and over – we are not going to tolerate the violence[.]”
MADAME President, the VAWA reauthorization bill is another step toward a more just society, as Sheila described it. I look forward to it becoming law. Thank you.