As you read this, 24 women will be raped or sexually assaulted in the United States every minute. Thus, in the five minutes it takes to read this, approximately 120 women will have become victims of the same.
Working at YWCA York, I witness women firsthand everyday seeking help and refuge through our sexual and domestic violence hotline and emergency shelters. Last year, over 11,500 people called our hotline and 577 adults and children spent time in our emergency shelters or transitional housing. These are people you know: daughters, sisters, coworkers, friends and classmates.
But violence is more than just statistics. Domestic and dating violence, rape and sexual assault and stalking are pervasive problems in our society and touch every one of us. No community is unaffected.
As I sat in the audience as a recent attendee at this year's 2012 YWCA USA Conference in Washington, D.C., I had the honor of listening to Vice President Joe Biden encourage YWCA leaders to continue bringing attention to the issue of violence against women. Similarly, I heard Marie Wilson, founder of The White House Project and Ms. Foundation for Women, and creator of Take Your Daughter to Work Day, state that women, and particularly young women, need to have their voices heard. She noted that women are disproportionally under-represented as contributors in newspaper opinion sections and challenged the young women in the audience to change this.
Thus, as such a young woman, I write today about the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and ask others to do the same.
VAWA recently expired and now must be reauthorized to protect women and girls. The act represented the first piece of federal legislation to acknowledge domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes. The new proposed VAWA bill advances efforts to combat domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. The proposed bill also provides essential resources to state and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes.
Nonprofit organizations, such as YWCA York, remain poised to supply essential services for victims and survivors and depend on funding from VAWA.
Since VAWA's inception in 1994, annual incidents of domestic violence have dropped by more than 50 percent.
Despite this, young women age 16 to 24 still face high risks of dating violence, particularly on college campuses. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 college women will be a victim of sexual assault. The proposed VAWA bill aims to increase safety on college campuses.
I commend the Senate for recently passing the VAWA bill and now call upon the House to do the same, thereby acting in the best interest of women and reauthorizing Congresswoman Gwen Moore's bill, which is similar to the one passed in the Senate.
Meanwhile, an alternate version of the VAWA bill, which does not include key provisions, including protection for Native American, immigrant, and LGBT communities, is gaining support in the House. Should this version pass, a battle to reconcile the two bills will ensue, likely requiring compromises that will ultimately reduce the effectiveness of the final bill.
VAWA creates safer communities, supports victims and holds offenders accountable. It aims to improve, protect, restore and save lives. The time has come, once again, to move this crucial legislation forward. The women of York County and all over the United States depend on its protection. Support for reauthorization should not be a debate, but rather it should be supported unanimously.
I urge all responsible citizens, but particularly young women, to speak up and be heard. Reach out to your representatives and support the reauthorization of this important legislation. Email, blog, tweet, Facebook, text, and be heard.
-- Jennifer Brillhart is the chief development officer for the YWCA York.