A Vermont advocacy organization that addresses domestic and sexual violence hopes the country moves forward on re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act. The group points out the pandemic is proof we need it.

The Senate Judiciary Committee discussed the “Violence Against Women Act” Tuesday, which provides funding for services to victims of violence.

The organization is Voices Against Violence, a program of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. The director Kris Lukens said she hopes VAWA will help with funding methods for prevention. 

“This new version that we hope will pass eventually, really offers more protections for people that are in marginalized populations,” Lukens said. “Over 50% of the murders in Vermont are domestic and sexual violence and stalking related.”

Vermont Senior Senator Patrick Leahy calls himself a long term defender of VAWA. The act also prevents those convicted of stalking or domestic violence from purchasing firearms.

“It’s about listening to survivors and ensuring that those in the frontlines working to prevent domestic and sexual violence have all the tools that we need,” Senator Leahy said.  

Lukens said right now, what survivors need most is more emergency housing.

“They are in a situation where they need to get out to be safe,” Lukens said. “Or they have been kicked out or lost their house because of the violence and they are homeless, so they are looking for some safe housing.” 

The Vermont Network, a non-profit which provide domestic and sexual violence advocacy to survivors of violence showed 3,629 people received some kind of support related housing in 2020. 

The pandemic didn’t make it any easier. 

“Social distancing pushed many survivors living with their abusers further into isolation during covid,” Senator Leahy said. 

Lukens said they had to find new ways to reach people because of this. 

“Primarily people contact us through a hotline,” Lukens said. “But oftentimes victims were not able to call, not able to reach out if they were in a home during lockdown with their abuser.”

Lukens said what they need most is methods for prevention. She hopes that VAWA will help with this. 

“If we ever want to eliminate domestic violence in our lifetime we need to be working on preventing it as well,” Lukens said. 

VAWA went into law in 1994 sponsored by Joe Biden.