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I was 10 years old the first time I saw a man hit a woman. It was a beautiful summer afternoon and I was playing in my yard. I heard yelling and looked up to see my neighbor's husband dragging her out of her house by her hair. I don't remember what he was yelling about but the next thing I knew he punched her square in the face and slammed her head against the back of the car.

Several of my adult neighbors who were also outside and witnessed the assault, gathered up their things and hurriedly went inside their homes. I followed their lead and went inside as well. We left my neighbor lying in her driveway, blood flowing from her nose, while her husband stood over her screaming. At age 10, I couldn't fully comprehend what had just happened, but I understood immediately that something shameful and awkward had occurred. I also understood that it was none of my business. What none of us truly understood that day was that domestic violence thrives in an environment of fear and isolation. By doing nothing and leaving her there alone at the mercy of her abuser, we contributed to preserving that environment of abuse, fear and isolation in my neighbor's home.

Seven years after I witnessed this incident, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed. VAWA supports organizations and systems that provide a lifeline for victims. VAWA gives women like my neighbor a way to break free from fear and isolation, to get the help they need, and to get the protection they deserve. In the past 18 years, VAWA has led to increased reporting of domestic violence by both women and men, has decreased the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner, and has saved taxpayers billions of dollars. Moreover, the increase in domestic violence services and collaboration among domestic violence agencies, police and the justice system that VAWA has supported means that domestic violence is no longer a dark, shameful secret—one where victims dare not tell anyone and bystanders avert their eyes in embarrassment.

Simply stated: VAWA saves lives and money.

VAWA has made so much progress in the past 18 years and has transformed the way we respond to domestic violence. At the end of 2011, VAWA expired and Congress had the opportunity to prolong this progress. Congress had the opportunity to set an example for our nation – to say that that our nation puts safety and justice for victims first, above politics. Yet, when Congress left for recess at the beginning of October, they had still not reauthorized this vital, life-saving legislation. Why? Because they're arguing over provisions necessary to protect specific populations of victims, including Native American and immigrant victims and victims who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender.

No victim should be denied access to services, justice and protection because of the color of her/his skin, or because of her/his immigration status, or because of her/his sexual preference. We know violence thrives in environments of silence, shame, fear and isolation. We want and need Congress to be the neighbor that stands up against the abuser. Through VAWA's reauthorization, Congress can tell abusers their violence will not be ignored or tolerated and tell victims that we will stand up for them and protect them from abuse.

What happened to my neighbor was not okay. Would it have been okay if she had been a Native American woman? Or a mail-order bride? Or a lesbian? All victims deserve protection and justice from the violence they experience because protecting our family, friends, neighbors and strangers – regardless of their race, immigration status or sexuality – is the right thing to do.

During the month of October, Members of Congress are at home in their Congressional districts. Stand up for victims and demand that Congress stand up for victims too. Tell them that they cannot hide from or ignore this issue any longer. Please contact your Members of Congress before the end of October. Tell them that when they return to Washington, DC in November, they must work to swiftly reauthorize a version of VAWA that protects all victims.