White House Focuses on Violence Against Women

The Obama Administration announced a new position on June 26 -- White House advisor on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. Fittingly, the announcement came from Vice-President Joe Biden, who, when he was senator and chair of the Judiciary Committee, had been the original drafter of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Named to the new position is Lynn Rosenthal, who was key to galvanizing support across the country for the reauthorization of VAWA in 2005.

Larry Tackman, the director of the agency that handles VAWA funds in New Mexico, sees Biden’s hand in the $175 million increase that is going out to the states as part of the Federal stimulus efforts, along with $50 million for transitional domestic violence housing and $100 million for Victims of Crime (VOCA). “Biden has stuck with his personal involvement” in these issues, says Tackman. The Vice President will no doubt remain an essential ally when, starting on July 13, Rosenthal brings to this work her extensive experience as an organizer and advocate on the national, state and local level.

Rosenthal’s most recent stop was in New Mexico, where one year ago she was welcomed as the director of the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She came with what Tackman termed a “solid vision of where we ought to be going.” Although Rosenthal was eager to listen to those of us who had been working in New Mexico and learn about issues in the state, she spoke with an authority gained from a history of successful organizing across the country. 

When the VAWA was first enacted, Rosenthal was a shelter director in Florida, where she recognized the value of a national impetus for collaboration between advocates and law enforcement officials. She also came to see the other needs of women who have experienced violence that can be addressed by collaborative federal and local efforts -- jobs, housing and education. Sharon D’Eusanio, who worked with her from the Florida Attorney General’s office, saw Rosenthal as the one to pull the strings together: “She had the ear of the people in the field and was their conduit to decision makers.” Among their innovations in Florida was to recognize the special needs of domestic violence victims with disabilities, and now D’Eusanio hopes that the current federal funding stimulus emphasis on housing will ease the lack of appropriate, accessible housing as a barrier to these women and their children. 

Part of Rosenthal’s later job, as director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, was to educate members of Congress. Her colleague Julie Koob says that Rosenthal can bring to the table people who you’d think would never move. She is a skilled coalition builder on such issues as human trafficking and victims of domestic violence in the immigrant community -- issues that, Koob says, “are so hard to see and hear about. You need her, a good leader who will bring out the best in people.”

While in New Mexico, Rosenthal managed, in a disintegrating economy, to maintain state funding for services for domestic violence victims as well as tackling a law enforcement issue of search warrants and shelter entry. The last presentation I saw her organize was a panel on housing for domestic violence victims. Many states are sure to take up this issue because of the federal stimulus funding.

Some observers have suggested that this new position has no budget and so will carry little power. But other national leaders are welcoming Rosenthal back to a larger megaphone.

"We are absolutely delighted that President Obama and Vice President Biden have created a new position," says Family Violence Prevention Fund President Esta Soler, who calls Rosenthal’s appointment a “promising development.”  At a time when “domestic, dating and sexual violence are pervasive problems that touch every community, and on average three women are murdered each day by their husbands or boyfriends, we need renewed attention to this issue and increased resources” for victims and prevention measures.

"Lynn Rosenthal has extraordinary qualifications for this post," Soler continued.  Among goals that Soler emphasizes: to “change the social norms that allow abuse to continue; enlist men and boys as allies in stopping violence; engage the health care, business and other communities in this work; and do much more to stop violence in the United States and around the world.” 

D’Eusanio points out that funding and resources within the Departments of Justice, Human Services, and others are already focused on these issues. As Tackman says,  “what Rosenthal needs is ears,” people who will hear what she has to say.

It looks like the White House and Vice President Biden are providing her that platform.

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