Violence against women and children affects everyone in Charleston-Mattoon and our surrounding communities in some way.

In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was a giant step forward for our nation. Its passage meant that our federal government finally acknowledged that domestic and sexual violence cause tremendous harm, and put resources into helping victims. Millions of families are better off as a result.

Between 2014 and 2016, VAWA funding provided more than one million victim services for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking, including almost 2 million shelter nights, 600,000 hotline calls, victim advocacy for almost 300,000 unique individuals, and legal services for almost 100,000 survivors. Every six months in that period, VAWA funding served an average of 112,000 primary survivors and their children.

In the last fiscal year alone, HOPE of East Central Illinois provided shelter stays for 152 women and children fleeing domestic violence, provided legal advocacy for 295 clients, and answered 2,567 hotline calls. Funding provided by VAWA is instrumental in enabling us to provide these and other services to families in Coles, Clark, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Moultrie and Shelby counties.

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The time has come to again reauthorize this critical legislation. Evidence shows that VAWA is working. Over the last 15 years, domestic and sexual violence have declined. But there is more work to do. Representatives in the House have introduced a VAWA reauthorization that invests in prevention, increases access to safety and justice for women, and provides critical protections and services for all victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.

Every time VAWA has been reauthorized, it has been strengthened based on our increased understanding of gender-based violence. The Me Too era, when survivors are clamoring for change, is not the time to roll back important protections or even to maintain the status quo.

We cannot afford to go backwards; every VAWA reauthorization has strengthened protections and services for victims and survivors, and the 2019 reauthorization cannot and must not be an exception. We at HOPE of East Central Illinois urge community members to make their voices heard in support of H.R. 1585, the Violence Against Women Act of 2019. We must build on previous gains to protect all members of our community from violence.

-- Staff and board of directors at HOPE of East Central Illinois, Sexual Assault Counseling and Information Service, Charleston

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