There are millions of women who have experienced domestic violence, and I want them to know that there is life after abuse. At the age of 17 I dropped out of high school to join the Air Force, and soon after I married and had a beautiful baby girl. Shortly after we married, I realized my husband was a violent alcoholic. I gave him a chance to change and to be the man I thought I had married, but I had to acknowledge that he was not. I left everything behind: the house, the car and those memories. I packed a suitcase full of our clothes and we moved to Eutaw, Alabama to be close to my parents.
Without a high school education, getting a job was very difficult. I did everything I could to take care of us; sometimes working three jobs just to pay the bills and provide for my daughter. I did everything from cleaning kennels to working at a pari-mutuel window. It wasn’t until I met a friend’s fiancé who was a deputy sheriff that I decided to enroll in the police academy. I took the GED test, passed and set out to start a new life for me and my daughter.
While working as a deputy sheriff for the Orange County, Florida Sheriff’s Office I saw domestic abuse from the angle of a law enforcement officer. Over my 17 years as a deputy sheriff I encountered women who had been abused. Whether it was domestic violence, rape or stalking, they were dealing with the feelings of helplessness and fear that I knew far too well. I often met people who were in the depths of despair. Many of them didn’t know where to turn for help, but fortunately I was able to reassure them that there is life after abuse.
According to national statistics, on average three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner every day. In the United States, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. The tragedy of this type of abuse is that our children are often exposed to it. Reports indicate that 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year. And sadly, girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence.
Over 30 years ago, when I was faced with domestic violence, people didn’t discuss the issue. It was something that was dealt with behind closed doors. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which passed Congress with bipartisan support in 1994 and was signed into law, helped bring attention to an issue that was often underreported or not reported at all. Since then, it has been reauthorized twice and has been instrumental in bringing attention to the victims of abuse and providing them with help and shelter. As Congress moves forward with the third reauthorization of VAWA, it is imperative that the focus remains on helping the victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, rather than turning this issue into a political talking point.
Unfortunately, the Senate’s version, S. 1925, expands and controversially veers from VAWA’s original intent. Included in that legislation are provisions that seek to appease partisan special interest groups. Even worse, the Democrat-led Senate and its supporters have made it known that they stand ready and willing to use a vote against their version of the legislation as a campaign issue this November.
To make this a political issue is not only wrong but dangerous. Violence against women in this country cannot be just another campaign issue, it cannot become part of a stump speech; it must be a reflection of our best efforts as Americans united against a cycle of violence that can and must be broken. That is why I am proud to introduce, with my House colleagues, legislation that aims to improve VAWA while still keeping lifesaving programs intact. Our legislation will help ensure that money is going to the victims of abuse and not Washington bureaucrats by streamlining the grant process to make it more accountable, efficient and cost-effective. Additionally, it eliminates fraud in immigration programs and omits the potentially unconstitutional expansion of tribal court jurisdiction over non-native Americans.
As someone who knows firsthand the dangers and effects of domestic violence, I want victims out there to know that there is hope and life after abuse. Programs like VAWA, when not used for political posturing, are crucial to protecting and helping these victims. I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stand together on this issue without turning it into a partisan talking point. Too many lives are at stake for us to give anything less.
Congresswoman Sandy Adams, a Republican, represents Florida’s 24th Congressional District.