Students rally on the Hill

More than 250 people gathered on the U.S. Capitol steps Friday to rally in support of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Students from GW and the University of Maryland attended.

The legislation, which was approved in 1994, provides federal funding for battered women’s shelters, rape crisis lines and sexual abuse education.

Federal funding from the 1994 VAWA legislation expires Oct. 1. The reauthorization would provide continued funding for another five years.

Activists said they asked congressional leadership to begin floor debate on the legislation by Sept. 15, but little had changed a week after the requested date.

Two weeks ago, we called on Congress to react, said Jodie Rabhamd, an event organizer and representative from the National Council of Jewish Women. Well, we’re still here and we’re still waiting. Not another woman should be beaten, not another woman should be raped, while this bill waits.

The bill, which has 260 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 60 in the Senate, has not been brought to the floor by party leadership in either chamber.

Rally organizers said they fear the legislation may not be passed before Congress adjourns in early October.

The climate for women on campus has heightened to a breaking point, said Julie Beatty, vice president of the United States Student Association.

She said the legislation is especially poignant for students, a group she calls silent victims because they do not report many sexual assault incidents that occur on campus.

Students at the rally addressed the widespread problem of violence against women.

GW sophomore Melissa Pardes, along with five other students from different universities, spoke about Maryland women who were killed by their partners.

The legislation includes funding for education and crisis centers on college campuses nationwide, Beatty said.

George Mason University has used VAWA funding for four years to implement a center focused on sexual assault, said Connie Kirkland, director of the center.

The center employs three full-time employees and several student volunteers who conduct peer education and crisis counseling.

Not so many years ago, college campuses thought they were immune to these types of crime, Kirkland said. Sexual assault is the second-most common crime on campuses today. This is not acceptable. Campuses are a microcosm of society with the good and the evil. With VAWA, we have a change to eradicate the evil.

Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD), the chief sponsor of the legislation in the House, spoke on behalf of the Bush/Cheney presidential campaign. Former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-NY) and Rep. Eleanor Norton Holmes (D-DC) spoke on behalf of the Gore/Lieberman campaign

That bill is going to be re-authorized, Morella said. I was promised it would be re-authorized. Our task will not be over until it is on the president’s desk and the president has a signing ceremony.

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