Just two days after TMZ released new video footage of embattled NFL star Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancée earlier this year, women leaders held a panel to discuss the intersection of domestic violence and gun policy.
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and a network of five women leaders and survivors organized by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gathered in the country's capital Wednesday morning to explore possible next steps for Congress in addressing the two kinds of violence. The meeting took place ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on Sept. 13.
Kate Ranta shared with the audience an incident from November 2012, when her estranged husband entered her Florida home and shot her and her father. Her son, four years old at the time, witnessed the attempted double-murder.
"The physical pain was bad enough, but the emotional pain runs a lot deeper," Ranta said. "I struggle with 'why' and 'how could he do this to us?'" She suffers daily from anxiety and said doctors diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder. Ranta battles feelings of outrage against her ex-husband, but also experiences guilt and anger toward herself for not preventing his actions.
"Unbelievably," she added, "my story is not unique."
About 48 women are shot to death by intimate partners each month, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. And a woman is five times more likely to be murdered when a firearm is accessible.
Giffords, who was injured by a gunman outside of a supermarket in 2011, launched the initiative in July with the goal of educating state and federal lawmakers on the need for solutions that protect women from violence. The national debate about gun rights remains at a standstill at the congressional level as shooting rampages continue to occur across the country.
In an important step to protect women, the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this summer held its first-ever hearing on the ties between gun policy and domestic violence. Members of a witness panel discussed possible measures that would close the loopholes in the current federal law, including the use of temporary restraining orders to prevent convicted stalkers and perpetrators of domestic violence from purchasing firearms.
Until the hearing in July, it had been more than a year since leaders discussed the issue in the U.S. Senate.
Congress first passed VAWA in 1994 as a comprehensive legislative package designed to end violence against women, including provisions that focused on rape prevention and funding for victim services. Domestic violence cases have dropped 64% since the enactment of the measure.Protections under the law were subsequently expanded and improved. Last February, after a year of legislative stalemate, the House revitalized VAWA with an extension to protect Native Americans and LGBT individuals. The previous VAWA, which created a National Domestic Violence Hotline and authorized federal funding for battered women’s shelters, expired in 2011.
This week's panel discussion occurred just two days after the NFL suspended Rice, the now-former running back for the Baltimore Ravens. The video footage recovered from the February incident and released by TMZ on Monday shows the star player striking his now-wife Janay Rice in a New Jersey hotel elevator. Despite his unprecedented decision to suspend the athlete from the NFL indefinitely for domestic abuse, Commissioner Roger Goodell is facing mounting pressure for previously refusing to release him when initial details of the domestic violence case went public in February.
Rice posted a statement to her Instagram account on Tuesday in her first public reaction since her husband’s release from the Ravens. She blamed the media for making her family relive the moment, and requested privacy.
But members of the panel on Wednesday defended the role of the media in making the public more aware of domestic abuse. Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said the conversation surrounding Rice is the largest discussion of the issue that she has witnessed in the 40 years of her professional life.
"It has opened a public conversation like no other," Gandy said.
Prior to this week, the NFL's opener, Rice was suspended for two games in July and charged with assault for dragging his then-fiance out of the elevator. Both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden responded to the league's solution, praising the NFL for indefinitely cutting Rice from the team roster.
"No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman. 'No' means 'no,' " Biden told msnbc's Tamron Hall on Tuesday.
The vice president, who first introduced VAWA to Congress as a senator in 1990, called domestic abuse the "most vicious form of violence" because of victims' lasting physical and psychological scars.
Less than two weeks ago, the NFL attempted to tackle violence by sending a letter to all team owners outlining a new policy for players who are charged with domestic abuse. The league was prompted to change its policy following the arrest of a San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman for an alleged domestic disturbance.
At the college level, students continue to file federal complaints that accuse at least 76 institutes of higher education of mishandling sexual assault cases. If the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights opens investigations, the schools face the possibility of losing all federal funding. Attention to the issue has intensified since the spring when a White House task force published a series of recommendations aimed at improving school policies, and revealed that 55 schools were under investigation for possible violations of Title IX, the 1972 gender equity statute.