In Rockville visit, Biden announces new program to curb domestic violence


Vice President Biden (LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS)

Vice President Biden, in Rockville Wednesday to announce a new initiative to curb domestic violence, got personal as he described the effort to eliminate what he called “a blight on the nation’s conscience.”

“I was raised by a gentle man, a strong man,” said Biden of his father, who told him “it was the worst sin of all if a man raised a hand to a woman.”

Speaking to an audience of elected officials, victims’ advocates and law enforcement personnel Wednesday morning at the Montgomery County Executive Office Building, Biden recalled receiving death threats when he held his first Senate hearings on violence against women in the early ‘90s.

“I was pilloried,” he said, and told that domestic violence was a social problem beyond the reach of lawmakers. “We were constantly told that nothing could be done.” He eventually drafted the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994. An expanded version of the law was signed last week by President Obama.

Biden said cultural attitudes have evolved and legal remedies improved over the years. “Instead of taking a guy for a walk around the block and telling him to calm down we can arrest him,” he said.

But he added that more needed to be done, especially in the area of domestic violence that culminates in homicide. Joined by Attorney General Eric Holder, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md) and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Biden announced $2.3 million in grants for a Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Demonstration Initiative.

The Justice Department program, modeled after efforts in Maryland and Massachusetts, will help local law enforcement and medical personnel to identify women at risk of being murdered by intimate partners. Biden said that research has shown that certain predictive behaviors--including attempted strangulation and sexual assault--place women at elevated risk of becoming homicide victims.

“This isn’t your garden variety slap across the face, which is not acceptable in and of itself,” he said.

Biden, who is taking the lead in the Obama Administration’s gun control proposals, said reduction in domestic violence homicides is an essential step toward curbing the nation’s gun violence. He noted that between 2009 and 2012 40 percent of all mass shootings with four or more victims began with the targeting of a girlfriend, spouse or former intimate partner.

The federal initiative is modeled after the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, which enlists police, health clinics and faith groups to identify women at the most risk of abuse and connect them to domestic violence services. The homicide rate linked to domestic violence in Maryland has fallen 34 percent in the past five years, officials report.

The federal grants will go to Contra Costa County, Calif.; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; Rockdale County, Ga.; Winnebago County, Ill.; Boston; Brooklyn; West­chester County, N.Y.; Pitt County, N.C.; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; North Charleston, S.C.; and Rutland, Vt.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.

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