Local DA questions Violence Against Women Act's effectiveness

OSHKOSH — Some people are questioning legislation aimed at protecting domestic violence victims.

They're saying the almost 20-year-old Violence Against Women Act isn't working as well as it could.

The program provides federal money to develop programs to help victims and treat offenders.

The Senate passed a renewed version of the bill last week.

At the Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services Center in Oshkosh, a steady flow of clients is a reminder of a constant problem.

"Domestic violence and what an epidemic it is," said Julie Fevola, Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services executive director.

A problem many hoped the Violence Against Women Act would address when first passed in 1995.

"We have a serious problem that we need to solve," said Winnebago County District Attorney Christian Gossett.

Gossett says public opinion of domestic violence is part of the reason the problem is not getting any better and why funding through VAWA isn't necessarily reaching the core of the problem.

"There is a ton of research out there on domestic violence that is ignored because of political rhetoric."

Gossett cites a 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control. The report shows men use physical violence about 15% of the time in a domestic incident. Women resort to violence 35% of the time. The study also shows the other 50% of the time both men and women are violent toward each other in the same incident.

Fevola says a 2011 Wisconsin Department of Justice report shows in 75% of domestic violence incidents women are the victims.

No one will argue domestic violence isn't a complex issue that will take cooperation on many levels to address.

"If we continue the way we are going, the problem will be exactly the same 30 years from now. We'll be out several billion dollars but still have the same problem," said Gossett.

"I would always love to see more prevention efforts always, I think that's very important," said Fevola.

And while there may be differing views on how VAWA funding should be spent, Gossett says all parties are trying to address the same goal.

"If we could better protect women, children and men, who would be against that."

In last week's Senate vote, Republican Ron Johnson opposed the renewal, while Democratic Tammy Baldwin supported it. The bill is now being considered by the House of Representatives.

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