This past week Americans celebrated Valentine's Day, a holiday of love and affection. Sadly, for millions of women and girls who suffer from abuse by an intimate partner, often silently, there is little love for them to celebrate.
And, to make matters worse, if the House Republican leadership fails to pass a broad reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, fewer women will have access to the support and care they need in order to flee violent homes and relationships.
The numbers are startling. In America, on average 150 women are raped every hour. Even more frightening -- more than one out of every three women report being a victim of stalking, rape, or another form of violence at the hands of an intimate partner during her lifetime.
Congressman Eric Swalwell saw this when he was a prosecutor responsible for delivering justice in hundreds of domestic violence cases. Most striking was that no socio-economic group of women was immune. And too often the physical abuse a woman suffered was just the first chapter of being victimized, followed by further harassment from the batterer and a criminal justice system ill-equipped to assist victims.
Each year, domestic violence is responsible for more injuries to women than auto accidents, rapes and muggings combined. An estimated 35 percent of women entering emergency rooms are victims of domestic violence, yet only one in five women with physical injuries seek medical treatment. And about half of domestic violence crimes are ever reported.
While serving in the Assembly and state Senate, Congresswoman Jackie Speier carried legislation to help the women who suffer in silence, too ashamed or afraid of retaliation to report the abuse.
In 1993, she wrote the law that now requires medical professionals to report suspected domestic violence to authorities. Another law she authored allows victims of stalking and domestic violence to obtain emergency protective orders on the weekends, when most domestic violence occurs.
It wasn't until 1994, when Congress passed the landmark, bipartisan Violence Against Women Act, that domestic violence and sexual assault were seriously addressed at the federal level.
VAWA included new crimes for domestic violence, required states and localities to enforce protective orders and provided needed resources. Grants were made available to reduce the incidence of domestic violence and sexual assault, provide services to victims and help law enforcement better coordinate its response.
VAWA worked. Intimate partner violence declined by 62 percent 1994 and 2010.
VAWA has supported Bay Area programs including the Burlingame-based service provider Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse where more than 10,000 victims of abuse are helped each year. Even with federal support, demand for help exceeds CORA's capacity. Last year, there were 700 requests for shelter, but 130 could be accommodated.
The Senate passed the reauthorization of VAWA last year, but in an example of politics at its worst, the House Republican leadership refused to bring it up for a vote. Until then, VAWA had always been reauthorized on time and with wide bipartisan support.
Last Tuesday, with the support of every Republican and Democratic women senator, the Senate again passed the bill. The VAWA reauthorization renews critical grant programs, streamlines others to increase efficiency, and includes new efforts like audits to improve accountability.
Will the House Republicans play politics again? The House now has another chance to do the right thing. We are among 173 co-sponsors of the House version of the VAWA reauthorization, and we call on the House Republican leadership to take up this bipartisan bill without delay.
Rep. Eric Swalwell is an East Bay Democrat and Rep. Jackie Speier is a Democrat from the Peninsula.