At today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, spoke in support of Congress passing a bipartisan and modernized Violence Against Women Act. Ernst has continued to work in good faith with members of both parties, including Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) on a bill that ensures survivors, including those in rural communities, are prioritized and perpetrators are held accountable—and that can pass both chambers of Congress.
Senator Ernst’s remarks are below:
“Thank you very much Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Grassley, Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
“The Violence Against Women Act is now over 25 years old.
“As many of us are aware, this law provides desperately needed resources to tackle domestic and sexual abuse in our communities.
“And as is too often the case with programs like VAWA, authorization has lapsed. But despite that reality, year after year, VAWA programs continue to be funded by Congress.
“I am a survivor myself.
“I know firsthand the paralyzing fear that comes when someone you trust abuses you.
“But you don’t have to be a survivor to understand just how awful violence against women can be – in terms of physical and mental wellbeing, in terms of self-image, in terms of our families, and in terms of the security of our society as a whole.
“I wasn’t in the Senate in 2013, the last time Congress authorized VAWA, but since I’ve been here, I’ve had a vested interest in being part of the process and getting this vitally important bill modernized and reauthorized, because I believe we can always improve the Violence Against Women Act for survivors.
“For months, I have worked closely with Chairman Durbin and Senator Feinstein, along with Senators Cornyn, Murkowski, Klobuchar, and Ranking Member Grassley on a bipartisan bill that would not only reauthorize VAWA but truly modernize it. We are not there yet but good things in the Senate often take time.
“We will keep working until we come to a bill that won’t just be a talking point for one side or the other, but a bill that can pass the Senate and the House, become a law, and truly deliver for my fellow survivors.
“A modernized Violence Against Women Act that will pass the Senate must present a renewed focus on rural survivors and invest in proven programs that reduce violence.
“When you live in an area like mine, rural Montgomery County, Iowa, with a population of just over 10,000 people, the nearest shelter is an hour away in Council Bluffs. We’ve got to fix that.
“We must provide better resources for survivors in their own communities. We must also extend critical housing protections to rural communities, allowing survivors protection and security. It’s a critical lifeline and a way out of these abusive situations.
“We also have to focus on successful efforts to prevent sexual violence, like the Rape Prevention and Education program. Instead of reacting to these horrific crimes, this program works to prevent them from happening in the first place.
“Not only that, we must ensure not just that survivors are empowered…but that offenders are punished.
“My goal has always been to empower survivors, punish abusers, and enhance the overall purpose behind this important law.
“I will continue working with my Democratic partners, folks on this committee, and stakeholders to reach a bill that will help prevent what happened to me from ever happening to another woman.
“It’s a lofty goal, but why else are we here?