Vice president's Austin visit spotlights domestic violence

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on October 30, 2013 at 7:46 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 7:28 PM

AUSTIN -- Inside the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) call center in Southwest Austin, the phones are always ringing.
 
Since its christening in 1996, the small building has gone from two advocates guiding victims of domestic violence toward help to a staff of more than 100 employees.
 
The center was created after the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), co-authored by then-U.S. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE). The vice president's last visit was in 2009 to mark the center's two millionth call. Answering nearly 600 calls each day, the center took its three millionth this year.
 
"The truth is there are probably another three million women out there who need to call, and there's probably over the period of this time a million women who tried to call and we didn't get, we missed," Biden said as he addressed call center staff and media in his visit Wednesday.
 
"They're prisoners in plain sight," Biden said of the victims. "And the only voice so many of them hear are the people on the other end of the line here."
 
According to the NDVH as many as one in four women and one in seven men have "experienced severe physical violence by a current or former partner." The calls for help received at the Austin call center come from all over the U.S. Of the 211,733 calls answered by NVDH in 2012, each one was referred to an outside provider for further services.
 
Biden spoke for half an hour, delivering an impassioned defense of efforts to help victims of domestic violence and praising the courage of victims who risked further abuse to seek help through the hotline. The focus of the vice president's visit was to unveil an expansion of a text and chat service initially developed for teen victims through the National Dating Abuse Helpline.
 
"What we found out is young women are much more comfortable relating their plight to a peer, and doing it by texting or chat than on the telephone," said Biden.
 
He added the same was found true among adults visiting the NDVH website.
 
"When contacted, 98 percent said, 'Yes, let's talk. Let's have a chat.' And 98 percent grabbed your helping hand. But we're still short of money."
 
Expanding the service to adults has been made possible in part by a $250,000 grant from Verizon Wireless, along with $250,000 in matching funds from a national wireless phone drive. Biden closed his remarks by relating lessons learned from his parents, and exhorted parents to share the same with their own children.
 
"My father was a decent, honorable man. He said that the greatest sin a man or woman can commit is to raise a hand to a child, and the greatest abuse a man can engage in is the abuse of power by raising his hand to a woman," said Biden. "The other thing he taught us all early on, it is never, never, never the victim's fault."
 
Republican gubernatorial candidate and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott released a statement Wednesday thanking Biden for remembering Texas women during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. He also pointed to his own efforts as attorney general to assist victims of domestic violence.
 
"During my time as Attorney General, more than $50 million has been paid directly to domestic violence and sexual assault victims to relocate," said Abbott. "The Office of the Attorney General has also trained over 1,440 Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) who are on the front lines of providing compassionate care and law enforcement services for victims during very difficult times."
 
A statement from the Texas Democratic Party pointed out that earlier this year, Texas' Republican Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn both voted against reauthorizing the act that created the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The office of each senator addressed their vote in a statement to KVUE Wednesday.
 
"Sen. Cornyn has a long history of supporting victims and supported reauthorizing VAWA," said a spokesperson for Sen. Cornyn. "We understand that some may want to score political points, but we are more concerned about achieving justice for victims. I would point you to a statement we issued after Congress passed his bill to help eliminate the national rape kit backlog, which was included in VAWA."
 
Cornyn's office also pointed out visits by the senator this month to Austin non-profit SafePlace, a local resource for domestic violence victims, as well as the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center.
 
"Sen. Cruz has a long record of working to ensure violent criminals, especially those who target women and children, face the very strictest punishments under the law," said a spokesperson for Sen. Cruz. "He successfully defended the Texas Sexually Violent Predator Civil Commitment law before the Texas Supreme Court and repeatedly argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the strictest punishments for rapists and violent criminals. He voted against VAWA because stopping and punishing violent criminals is primarily a state responsibility, and the federal government should not be dictating state criminal law."
 
The hotline can be accessed online at thehotline.org or by phone at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224.

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