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700 Women

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Nicole Brown Simpson. Laci Peterson. And, more recently, Philadelphia pregnant mother Latoyia Figueroa.

All beautiful, vibrant young women, cut down in the prime of their lives by men they had loved.

And most people probably don't realize that these high-profile cases represent only the tip of the iceberg. For each case that happens to catch the attention of the mainstream media, thousands more go unnoticed, mourned only by their families and neighbors within their own communities.

Yes, thousands.

In fact, more than 700 women are abused or sexually assaulted by their partner each day in the U.S.

And four are murdered. That's more than the average number of U.S. troops killed daily in Iraq.

The fate of these women and their families could become even worse if Congress does not act quickly to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is set to expire at the end of September 2005.

VAWA cannot bring Nicole, Laci, or Latoyia back, but it can make a world of difference for survivors of domestic violence. And it can show the world that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking are crimes that our society will not tolerate.

Because of VAWA, we have funding for more shelters and hotlines. We have enhanced medical and counseling services. And we have specialized resources for immigrant, rural, disabled, and older women, and for Native American women living within sovereign Indian nations.

Because of VAWA, we have new statutes addressing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, to fill in jurisdictional gaps in prosecuting these crimes. We have increased training for police, prosecutors, and court officials, so that justice can be served and victims no longer have to suffer in silence.

And it's working.

Since the passage of VAWA in 1994, rates of domestic violence incidents have dropped by almost 50 percent, and incidents of rape are down by 60 percent.

We must not lose this momentum.

With the reauthorization of VAWA, Congress has a unique opportunity not only to continue so many vital and successful programs, but also to expand on 10 years of progress to further the safety and security of survivors of domestic violence, to crack down on perpetrators of these crimes, and to do a better job of preventing violence against women.

And, with the reauthorization of VAWA, Congress has a unique opportunity to make life so much better for more than 700 women each day.

This is America. All women should have the freedom to feel safe and secure in their homes and in their communities.

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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