By Stephen Sigmund and Ruby Sigmund
May 23rd marked the 25th anniversary of Lawrenceville-based Womanspace’s Barbara Boggs Sigmund Award dinner. The event raises money each year for the organization to provide comprehensive services to survivors of domestic abuse, and their families, as well as to lead advocacy efforts to prevent abuse and combat sex trafficking.
The event is named after former Princeton Mayor and Mercer County Freeholder Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who died in office in 1990. A co-founder of Womanspace in 1978, she established a crucial support system for victims of domestic violence when there were no shelters in Central New Jersey and “battered women” cases were handled in family, rather than criminal, court.
Barbara Boggs Sigmund was my mother, and Ruby’s grandmother.
Twenty five years is the same age as the Violence Against Women Act, the groundbreaking federal law that protects survivors of domestic abuse nationwide with components like the Federal rape shield law; protections for victims who are evicted from their homes; legal aid for survivors; and more.
Statistics show that the Violence Against Women Act works. Since its initial passage, there has been an almost 50% reduction in non-fatal, violent abuse committed by intimate partners, and a commensurate increase in reporting of domestic violence.
But as part of budget negotiations, the law was allowed to expire in January. It must be renewed, and it must be renewed now, because abusers don’t wait for a drawn out political process.
The Violence Against Women Act passed the Democratic led House of Representatives in April. But it faces a more uncertain future in the Republican led Senate, because of provisions, opposed by the National Rifle Association, that would bar gun sales to those convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse or stalking, and close the so called “boyfriend loophole” to keep guns from dating partners with the same convictions.
Twenty-five years of progress backtracked by tens of thousands of domestic abuse murders later, it is ridiculous that reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act over gun restrictions to convicted abusers is still a subject of debate.
Let’s look at the realities of domestic abuse and gun violence: in 2016, more than 1,800 women were killed by a man they knew, the most common weapon used being a gun, according to a Violence Prevention Center annual report. Everytown for Gun Safety research shows that in an average month, 50 American women are shot to death by intimate partners, and many more are injured. Nearly 1 million women alive today have been shot, or shot at, by an intimate partner.
Why wouldn’t we want to take the most commonly used weapon to kill women in abusive situations out of the hands of their abusers?
Because while it might be common sense, it’s not political sense. The NRA has a hold over the Republican party and it’s using that hold to stop a provision in one of the most important laws in the country from providing further domestic abuse protections.
In an era where attacks on women’s rights are becoming commonplace, the fight over the Violence Against Women Act is one in which we can stand up and win.
The law has been reauthorized 3 times, in 2000, 2005, and 2013. In almost every case, Republicans fought its reauthorization over partisan issues like extending protections to LGBTQ citizens or immigrants. Yet, each time, the value of the law in protecting lives won out.
And it can again, but only if the voices of common sense and protecting domestic abuse survivors are heard. Established organizations like The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (NTF, 4VAWA.org) and the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV.org) have specific action pages to urge VAWA’s reauthorization and passage.
More than 40 years ago, when Womanspace was founded, Barbara Boggs Sigmund refused to divulge the location of the shelter, even to her children. She feared that an abuser might go after one of us to get that information, and she was that committed to providing a safe place from women and families.
Let’s remember that legacy and make sure the laws of the land are as committed to protection as she was.
Stephen Sigmund is a Princeton native and public affairs consultant. Ruby Sigmund is a high school Sophomore. Both live in Maplewood, New Jersey.