On Thursday, March 7th, President Barack Obama signed the expanded Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on the eve of International Women’s Day. The signing of the bill took place at the Department of the Interior, with Vice President Joe Biden speaking first before introducing Mr. Obama. One of the many key highlights of the bill includes the strengthening of laws that protect against dating violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. Added resources will also be provided to survivors of violent acts, giving the Act a much-needed boost after going in to effect in 1994.
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Mr. Biden was introduced by Diane Millich, executive director of Our Sister’s Keeper, an organization she founded in 2007 to decrease violence against Native American women. The Vice President opened up with remarks regarding the signing of the historic act, recalling his work alongside Michigan congressman John Conyers on the bill.
Mr. Biden’s remarks:
Those of you who have been around a while with me know that I quote my father all the time who literally would say, the greatest sin that could be committed, the cardinal sin of all sins was the abuse of power, and the ultimate abuse of power is for someone physically stronger and bigger to raise their hand and strike and beat someone else. In most cases that tends to be a man striking a woman, or a man or woman striking a child. That’s the fundamental premise and the overarching reason why John Conyers and I and others started so many years ago to draft the legislation called the Violence Against Women Act.
After raucous applause for his opening statement, Biden gave the floor to Mr. Obama and the President immediately charmed the crowd with bits of humor and stirring conviction. The President also artfully mentioned Hadiya Pendleton, a young Chicago high school student killed in a random act of gun violence in January.
President Barack Obama’s remarks:
Now, as Joe said earlier, we’ve come a long way. Back when Joe wrote this law, domestic abuse was too often seen as a private matter, best hidden behind closed doors. Victims too often stayed silent or felt that they had to live in shame, that somehow they had done something wrong. Even when they went to the hospital or the police station, too often they were sent back home without any real intervention or support. They felt trapped, isolated. And as a result, domestic violence too often ended in greater tragedy.
So one of the great legacies of this law is that it didn’t just change the rules; it changed our culture. It empowered people to start speaking out. It made it okay for us, as a society, to talk about domestic abuse. It made it possible for us, as a country, to address the problem in a real and meaningful way. And it made clear to victims that they were not alone — that they always had a place to go and they always had people on their side.
And today, because members of both parties worked together, we’re able to renew that commitment. Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act is something I called for in my State of the Union address. And when I see how quick it got done, I’m feeling, makes me feel optimistic.
Because of this bill, we’ll keep in place all the protections and services that Joe described, and, as he said, we’ll expand them to cover even more women. Because this is a country where everybody should be able to pursue their own measure of happiness and live their lives free from fear, no matter who you are, no matter who you love. (Applause.) That’s got to be our priority. That’s what today is about.
Watch the President sign the act here:
Joining the President onstage for the singing ceremony was Attorney General Eric Holder, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Mike Crapo, Senator Susan Collins, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Representative Steny Hoyer, Representative John Conyers, Representative Gwen Moore, Representative Tom Cole, Casa de Esperanza Director of Public Policy Rosemary “Rosie” Hidalgo-McCabe, Baltimore County Police Department Chief James Johnson, Vice Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington State Deborah Parker, Executive Director of Our Sister’s Keeper Millich, Trafficking Survivor/Advocate Tysheena (Tye) Rhames, and Executive Director of New York City Anti-Violence Project Sharon Stapel.
View the signing of the bill here.