President Obama on Thursday signed an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act, a measure intended to promote state and local efforts to combat rape and domestic assault and which will extend new protections to gays, lesbians and Native Americans.
First authorized in 1994, the bill provides $660 million over the next five years for programs that provide legal assistance, transitional housing, counseling and support hotlines to victims of rape and domestic abuse.
In an emotional ceremony, held at the Interior Department to accommodate a large crowd, Obama was flanked by lawmakers and survivors of sexual abuse as he said that the bill transformed the way survivors dealt with abuse, providing a support network that de-stigmatized victims.
“One of the great legacies of this law is that it didn’t just change the rules; it changed our culture. It empowered people to start speaking out. It made it okay for us, as a society, to talk about domestic abuse,” Obama said. “It made it possible for us, as a country, to address the problem in a real and meaningful way. And it made clear to victims that they were not alone — that they always had a place to go and they always had people on their side.”