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Obama launches initiatives to fight domestic violence

By Nia-Malika Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 5:59 PM

President Obama on Wednesday announced an administration-wide effort to combat domestic violence, combining improved legal protections, housing, health and financial assistance for victims to address a problem that affects one in four women and some 15.5 million children.

The initiatives are spread across six agencies and include education curriculums for Head Start programs in six states and a reduction in the backlog of rape kits in five jurisdictions.

Obama was joined at the White House by Vice President Biden, who spearheaded the Violence Against Women Act, signed into law in 1994, and former Major League Baseball manager Joe Torre, a victim of domestic violence as a boy.

"The bottom line is this, nobody in America should live in fear because they are unsafe in their own home, no adult, no child, we will make sure every victim of domestic violence knows that they are not alone, that there are resources available to them in their moment of greatest need," Obama said. "As a society we need to ensure that when a victim of abuse reaches out, we are there to lend a hand. This is not just the job of government, it's a job for all of us."

Biden called his work on the 1994 bill the "single most important thing" he has done and called the administration's focus on domestic violence a "government-wide obsession."

The announcement comes as administration officials have courted women voters, with first lady Michelle Obama touting the administration's record on equal pay legislation in several campaign stops, and with the release last week of a report on women and the economy.

The White House has also been trying to highlight aspects of the health-care legislation that have already taken effect; the intra-agency domestic violence initiative includes two programs that are part of the new health-care law.

Five states, including Virginia, will start this month reaching out to pregnant women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence. Those programs are backed by the Pregnancy Assistance Fund, which is part of the new health-care legislation.

Among the new initiatives, according to a White House release:

*Defending childhood initiative: launched by the attorney general and aimed at protecting children from the harmful consequences of witnessing violence.

*Civil protection orders: The Department of Justice will release new tools and guidance for communities to improve issuance and enforcement of protective orders.

*Forums on sexual assault: The White House Council on Women and Girls, which is headed by senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and the Department of Justice will hold regional forums across the country in the next six months aimed at reducing sexual assault.

*Legal access: The Department of Justice will launch pilot projects in New Orleans and Baltimore to provide pro bono legal services to victims of domestic violence.

*Maternal, infant and early childhood home visits: Funded by a $1.5 billion health-care legislation set aside over the next five years, it provides for home visitation services and early intervention in domestic violence and child abuse cases.

*Housing assistance: The Department of Housing and Urban Development will release rules to housing authorities and landlords to ensure that victims of abuse do not lose their housing because of crimes committed against them.

*Financial literacy: The FDIC will release Friday an updated version of its Money Smart curriculum that will include information for victims of domestic violence.

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