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George W. Bush drew a blank last week while touring Pennsylvania. The Republican nominee was answering a question about whether he would support reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. VAWA provides federal funding for a broad array of state and local programs to combat violence against women, such as funding special police units focused on sex crimes. Sociologists correlate VAWA with the decrease in violent crime in the U.S. from 1993 to 1998. "Is it up for reauthorization now?" queried the presidential hopeful. "Give me the facts. I need to know more about that. Give me your name and address and I'll write you a letter." While it is likely that Mr. Bush knows that Congressional Republicans are blocking VAWA reauthorization, it galls me that he feels a know-nothing stance will win him the highest office in the land. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) volunteered to update Bush on VAWA, now in place for six years. "I can't believe that the day after Bush sought women's votes by performing on Oprah he revealed his stunning ignorance on a topic that is so important," she said in a Democratic Party press release. "This isn't a pop quiz. For some women, it's a matter of life and death." VAWA will expire if a floor vote is not held by September 30, and the flow of federal government resources to women who live with violence will stop, possibly never to be resumed. Currently, 50 percent of 911 calls involve violence against women. According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, about 10 to 30 percent of U.S. women have experienced some type of domestic violence. In one survey, 31 percent of women reported experiencing physical abuse from a spouse or partner, 21 percent reported being raped or assaulted, yet only 8 percent had ever discussed the abuse with their doctor. VAWA finances programs that uniquely address battered women's psychosocial needs. Not only did it fund new women's shelters, more outreach workers, training sessions for law enforcement and domestic violence advocates, VAWA made it a federal crime to cross states lines and commit domestic violence. More than a dozen perpetrators have been arrested under VAWA, saving at least a dozen women from further abuse. The legislation also created a National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE, which received 21,000 calls in its first three months of operation. But plenty of VAWA programs await funding. VAWA will increase the number of rape prevention programs and community domestic violence initiatives. A fully funded VAWA provides vital judicial, police and health care employee training to improve services for the terrified, recalcitrant women struggling to survive a private hell. "It is stunning that a governor from one of the largest states, which has received $50 million under VAWA to help battered women, is completely uninformed on this important law," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), co-author of VAWA, said in a statement in reference to Bush. "You don't deserve to get the women's vote if you are not advocating for the extension of the Violence Against Women Act when a woman is raped or assaulted every 20 seconds in our country." I have seen emergency rooms stuffed with victims of domestic violence of every description, who are cursorily treated and shuttled out again, only to return in a few weeks, fueling a deadly cycle. In a January interview, Bush said that a crowded emergency room was a sign people had access to health care. Now is the time to speak up for those whose suffering, sadly, goes unseen by those who should know better.

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