The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), through which institutions such as rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters have been supported since 1994, will expire at the start of next month unless it has congressional reauthorization. Concern for the act’s possible expiration prompted students to get involved, among these are WRC Board members, Sonali Shahi ’06, Alexandra Clegg ’08, Reshma Pattni ’06, and Sarah Roberts ’08, as well as Haley Loram ’08. Goals and possible courses of action were discussed at a WRC-sponsored luncheon this past Wednesday in Upper Tarble.
First to speak on Wednesday after Sonali Shahi’s introductions was Melissa Lucchesi of the Delaware County Domestic Abuse Project. Lucchesi began by outlining what in 1994 the VAWA started out as, that is, a way to bring together criminal justice, social service, and non-profit organizations in order to serve victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. In 2000, the VAWA expanded to encompass cases of dating violence and stalking, which was fortunate, as prior to that resources like the Domestic Abuse Project could not assist victims of such crimes.
It is hoped that in 2005 and beyond, the VAWA will target a shift from criminal justice towards “self-sufficiency” of victims. This means more housing programs, more effective and accessible legal aid, and added security via “protection from abuse” orders. There would also be a greater focus on education and prevention. Many if not all of these goals, not to mention the current programs, would be jeopardized if funding were lost through the VAWA’s expiration. Lucchesi cited her field of crisis counseling as an area in particular that would be severely limited in that case.
The number of people helped through, and the number of lives saved by, the VAWA, is significant. The National Hotline, for instance, has answered over one million calls, and more than 660 laws have been passed by states to combat abuse, stalking, and dating violence.
Following Melissa Lucchesi was Haley Loram, who was struck by her experiences volunteering at a women’s crisis shelter during senior year of high school and is now fighting for the reauthorization of the VAWA.
“I definitely heard stories I’ll never forget as long as I live…everyone picks their battles in life, and this is mine,” said Loram.
Loram has collected some 300 letters addressed to congressmen regarding this issue. She also has planned a phone bank for the 29th, the day before the vote over the future of the Violence Against Women Act, on Parrish Beach from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Of course as much of the student body as possible is invited.
The WRC Board, too, aims to further this issue, among others.
“We are hoping to collaborate with other groups, to serve as a resource, and get people to respond–that relies on campus participation, though,” Shahi commented after the luncheon.
The WRC luncheons are open to all Swarthmore faculty and staff, and the WRC bulletin board with this information and more will be up in Parrish by next week.