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Linda Walls speaks out in support of the Violence Against Women Act

LindWalls | Papadakis Photography

Linda Walls | Papadakis Photography

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Updated: February 13, 2013 7:52PM

As a woman, I’ve been hit, burned, raped and held at gunpoint. As a mother, I’ve seen my four children burned alive by this same violent man — their father. And as a sister, I’ve lived through my sibling’s fatal bludgeoning by her husband on the day she filed for divorce. So I cannot begin to comprehend the squabbling going on in Congress over passing the Violence Against Women Act — the primary federal law providing legal protection and services to victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

Before the original Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, there were very few resources for these victims. Last year, it was up for reauthorization, but failed to pass the House. Now, the bill is again being debated; it’s passed the Senate, but House passage still remains uncertain. Many agree with me that the bill should be passed — the 1994 version provided $1.6 billion toward investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, and imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted. It also established an Office on Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice.

But the bill’s critics feel that it’s inherently flawed, citing its vague language and broad scope. Some take issue with the bill’s name, and others oppose its expanded victim protections for men, LGBT relationships and women in Native American tribes.

While the debate rages on, crimes against women and children are increasing at an alarming rate. Every day in the U.S., four women and three children die as a result of abuse. Every year, 1,460 women are murdered by their boyfriends, husbands or partners and 1,095 children are murdered through acts of domestic violence. We need to come together as a country and take a stand against these domestic horrors.

I know from my personal experiences that abuse messes with your head. In the hands of my abuser, I felt I didn’t have options. Reporting him to the authorities got me nowhere. I remember thinking, “If I stay, he won’t hurt others,” which he was always threatening to do. But he had never threatened to harm the children. When my cries for help were finally heard, it was too late — he murdered our children in 1989.

I found my voice too late, but I have one now, and I’ll continue to speak out. The Violence Against Women Act is our national voice. It’s saved lives before and will save more if it’s reauthorized. If we silence this voice, who will speak out to protect the victims of domestic violence?

Linda Walls has donated her fee from this column to Kankakee County Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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