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Perspective: Eastern Idaho’s changing attitude toward domestic violence since VAWA

Twenty years ago, the eastern Idaho landscape was different, and so was the attitude toward domestic violence.

Resource centers for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are in many eastern Idaho towns, but that wasn’t the case in those years before congress enacted the original Violence Against Women Act.

President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act into law on Thursday.

His signature re-authorizes the original 1994 legislation

“Today is about the millions of women,” said Obama. “The victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

At Rexburg’s Family Crisis Center, director Margie Harris remembers a time when domestic violence was something nobody talked about, at least not openly.

Harris began her work in victims’ advocacy before domestic violence resource centers were even a concept. She and a friend began a grassroots effort in the mid-80s. The two friends would team up with law enforcement to respond to domestic violence and offer a safe place for victims — sometimes Harris opened up her own home to families in danger.

“The deputy had called and said they had a situation,” Harris said, recalling one call nearly 30 years ago. “We went in the house right behind (the deputies). They held the offender in the corner with their arms, while we went and got the woman and her kids.”

Then, Harris was a lone soldier.

“This was back in the early 80s, just on a volunteer basis, because there wasn’t any other resources,” she said. “We just went directly to law enforcement and said, ‘Hey, if you have a family who needs to be safe, call us.'”

Things have changed since then.

Now, Harris is at the helm of Rexburg’s Family Crisis Center now — a prominent fixture on the city’s main street. But back in 1994 when she started working for the organization, things were very different.

“We were in a little office, we didn’t have a sign on our door,” she said. “We didn’t know if we would be safe.”

The Justice Department reports a 50% decrease in domestic violence since 1994. Harris credits the original Violence Against Women Act for making things better.

“Now it’s okay to speak up against it, it’s okay to reach out and help someone,” said Harris. “It is your business.”

The 2013 re-passage of the legislation was sponsored by senator Mike Crapo (R) Idaho.

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