WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Barack Obama signed legislation Thursday expanding the Violence Against Women Act, a new measure intended to protect gay, lesbian and transgender victims, as well as American Indians and undocumented immigrants.
President Obama signed the bill at the Interior Department before an audience that included domestic violence survivors such as Diane Millich, a member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in Colorado.
She said her husband attacked her numerous times but was never prosecuted, because she lived on tribal land and her attacker was a non-Indian.
“If the bill being signed today were in law when I was married, it would have allowed my tribe to arrest and prosecute my abuser," she said. "When this bill is signed, the Violence Against Women Act will finally reach Native American women like me.”
President Obama’s signature renews a 1994 law which was allowed to lapse in 2011 when Republicans and Democrats could not agree on legislation to renew it.
Republicans in the House of Representatives dropped their objections to the bill last month and allowed the legislation to pass.
The president said the expanded law is a victory for domestic violence survivors.
“It is about our commitment as a country to address this problem in every corner of America, every community, every town, every big city, as long as it takes,” he said.
The original Violence Against Women Act is credited with helping reduce domestic violence incidents by two-thirds.
Still, Obama said more progress is needed.
“We have made incredible progress since 1994, but we cannot let up — not when domestic violence still kills three women a day; not when one in five women will be a victim of rape in their lifetime; not when one in three women is abused by a partner.”
The new law includes about $659 million over five years. It covers existing programs that provide money for temporary housing for those escaping abuse, legal assistance and law enforcement training.
It also reauthorizes legislation to protect the victims of sex trafficking and adds stalking to the crimes from which immigrants are eligible for protection.
Vice President Joe Biden, who also spoke at the ceremony, wrote the original legislation in 1994 when he was a member of the U.S. Senate.