Senators offer bill to renew Violence Against Women Act, with a section honoring an Alaska murder victim

Angelina Jolie surrounded by U.S. senators at a press conference marking the introduction of a bill to renew the Violence Against Women Act. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Actress Angelina Jolie lent her star power to a bill in the U.S. Senate — a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which includes a section dedicated to a young Alaskan killed by her boyfriend.

Jolie spoke for five minutes at a news conference at the Capitol, at one point struggling to remain composed.  

“I am in awe of the parents who after the murder of their children have fought to change the law to protect the next child,” she said. “Parents like Ana Estevez, mother of Piqui, Kathy Sherlock mother of Kayden, even though that means reliving every day the horror and pain and loss.”

Jolie might have added two Alaskans to that list — Butch and Cindy Moore. They’ve dedicated themselves to violence prevention since their 20-year-old daughter, Breanna, was murdered by her boyfriend in 2014 in Anchorage.

“That was just so impactful, and powerful. And I had tears in my eyes,” Cindy Moore said, after watching the news conference online.

The Moores’ advocacy convinced the Alaska Legislature to pass Bree’s law, which trains teachers to recognize signs of sexual abuse and teaches students about dating violence. Now the U.S. Senate version of the Violence Against Women bill has a Bree’s Law section, to foster education nationally about dating violence. The Moores say they’re grateful to Sen. Lisa Murkowski for adding it to the bill. Cindy Moore said kids need to recognize unhealthy relationships and know that jealousy and possessiveness are not signs of love.

“If we can teach them at the junior high and high school level, then hopefully when they get into their long term relationships as adults, we can curb domestic violence and we can bring those numbers way down,” she said.

Previous efforts to renew the Violence Against Women Act got bogged down in a controversy over guns — whether an abuser should be denied access to guns even if the victim and perpetrator were just dating. Federal law already bars domestic abusers from having guns if they assault their spouse, ex-spouse, live-in partner or the other parent of their child. It also bars felons from possessing guns.

Facing fierce opposition from gun-rights groups and several Republican senators, the bill’s sponsors did not attempt to close the so-called boyfriend loophole.

Moore said she would like to see the loophole closed, though it was not applicable in Bree’s case. Her boyfriend did not have a prior conviction for domestic violence when he shot their daughter. But he was a felon and not allowed to possess guns.

It’s not clear when the Senate will vote on the Violence Against Women Act renewal bill.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.