Politics

Congressman John Yarmuth said the high-profile domestic violence case involving NFL player Ray Rice demonstrates the need for legislation empowering abused women.

The Rice incident “in very graphic ways highlighted a problem that’s been around for a very long time,” Yarmuth, a Democrat who represents Louisville, told WFPL Friday. “And that is, unfortunately, too many men try to exert their physical power over women to control them. Society needs to be very much aware of the problem and to deal with it decisively.”

The congressman’s office announced this week that the Legal Aid Society in Yarmuth’s district had been awarded close to $500,000 in federal funds to expand efforts to provide legal advocacy and representation for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

The grant was provided under the Violence Against Women Act, which will mark its 20th anniversary this Saturday.

Since the emergence of a video showing Rice hitting his then-fiancée in an elevator, the NFL has faced fresh questions about how it handled the situation.

Initially Rice, a Baltimore Ravens running back, was suspended for two games when reports of the incident surfaced. When the new images surfaced, the Ravens moved to release Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.

Yarmuth said the NFL and Ravens organization handled the situation poorly, and both owe the public an explanation.

“Ultimately the integrity of that sport depends on how they handle issues like this. So I think they need to be more forthcoming,” said Yarmuth.

In terms of VAWA, the law provides over $6 million for 45 different agencies across the state for a variety of programs.

Among the initiatives being funded is the Collaboration and Advocacy to provide Safety and Empowerment or CASE Project, which supplements important community partnerships between the Legal Aid Society, the University of Louisville Law Clinic, the Center for Women and Families, and the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs.

A Yarmuth spokesman said that provides aid to domestic violence and sexual assault victims beyond Louisville, including neighboring Bullitt, Oldham and Shelby counties.

The project also seeks to address sexual assault on college campuses by providing support for students at several area universities who are victims of sexual assault, including those who attend the University of Louisville, Spalding University, Sullivan University, Bellarmine University and Jefferson Community and Technical College.

“Over the past four years, Legal Aid and our grant partners have implemented a seamless process that provides holistic advocacy to sexual assault and domestic violence victims who face legal problems as a consequence of their abusive partners,” Jeffrey A. Been, executive director of the Legal Aid Society said in a released statement.

“This grant award allows us to expand our work to three additional Kentucky counties and to provide important outreach to victims of sexual assault on Kentucky college campuses.”

Those in favor of the Violence Against Women Act say it strengthens the ability of the federal government, states, law enforcement and service providers to combat domestic violence

VAWA became a political football two years ago, however, when many conservative lawmakers opposed its re-authorization due to the inclusion of same-sex couples, undocumented residents, and Native Americans living on reservations.

“I was stunned when we were fighting last year to get re-authorization of the act,” said Yarmuth. “This is something that should not be partisan. When you’re looking at statistics that indicate one out of every three women is abused at some point, this is not just a random occurrence, it’s part of our society that we need to take care of.”

Among those who voted against that more inclusive version of the bill last year were Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Congress eventually passed a re-authorized version that was signed into law.