BOULDER– U.S. Senator Michael Bennet told students, staff and faculty members at the University of Colorado campus here Tuesday that he was proud to champion the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and happy that the Senate voted in favor of its reauthorization by a broad bipartisan majority.
Bennet was seeking to rally support for the bill as it moves to the Republican-controlled House and to take measure of how the legislation translates for people working on campus and in the city of Boulder with victims and perpetrators of stalking, domestic violence and sexual assault.
“It’s nice to meet with people working on the ground, particularly when politics in Washington is as screwed up as it is right now,” Bennet told roughly 30 people gathered in a conference room hemmed in by the Flatiron mountains.
He referenced his time as the superintendent of the Denver Public School system. “There’s not much of a feedback loop [in Washington]. You watch laws get passed, but on the ground sometimes they don’t make a lot of sense. It can be a one-way game of telephone.”
Representatives from rape centers and legal assistance offices told Bennet that funds provided by the Act were critical in establishing resources. Barb Paradiso from the University of Colorado Denver said there was no office or staff to deal with the issue on her urban campus just three years ago. She said grant money awarded through the Act was crucial to getting services up and running and hiring employees.
“In just three years, we’ve come a long way. We have a foundation [on which] to build now,” she said.
Bennet said it was unfortunate that the Senate five year reauthorization would slash $150 million from the Act’s previous $800 million budget. That was a response to fiscal realities, he explained.
“I call Washington the land of flickering lights, because the standard these days is just to manage to keep things running.”
The people gathered at CU told Bennet that, although great strides have been made in providing help for victims, the culture surrounding the issue hasn’t changed in ways that would work to head off the violence and decrease the number of victims.
“We reach out to victims but we don’t reach out to perpetrators,” said Celeste Montoya, a political science professor and faculty adviser for the campus Gender Justice League. She said a lot could be done to intervene before any crime or harassment takes place. “We know where to begin,” she told the Colorado Independent, “the sports teams and the fraternities.
“We have a great policy on paper to support victims but to target prevention, funding for that would be tremendously appreciated.”
The Violence Against Women Act, originally sponsored by now-Vice President Joe Biden, was passed in 1994 and has been reauthorized consistently. It pays for programs that provide, for example, legal assistance and temporary housing for victims, enforcement of court-ordered protection services and youth prevention programs.
This year, however, reauthorization has been charged with election-year politics. Democrats added provisions that would extend services to same-sex and undocumented immigrant victims. Conservatives have argued that Democrats are, in effect, daring them to vote against reauthorization, looking to gain more material to fill out a portrait of the party as insensitive to women.
Bennet, secure in his seat for another four years, is nevertheless the poster boy for “war on women” election campaign strategies bubbling up across the country.
As a candidate in 2010, Bennet looked to win over women across Colorado by highlighting the hardline social conservative policy stances struck by his Republican opponent Ken Buck. Bennet, appointed to office two years earlier when Ken Salazar became Secretary of the Interior, was an underdog in the race. It was the first time he had ever run for office and it was the year Republican candidates notched victories in record numbers coast to coast.
Yet Buck, who as Weld County district attorney years before had declined to prosecute a rape case partly because he thought a skeptical jury would see the defendant as merely suffering a case of “buyer’s remorse,” was portrayed by critics as an unyielding relic of a past era. In the end, Bennet succeeded in winning the votes of women by a wide margin and did so in a contest where every vote mattered. He elbowed past Buck at the finish line, winning the election by something like 10,000 of roughly 800,000 votes cast.[ Image of Senator Bennet at CU by The Colorado Independent ]