Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
The passage of VAWA in 1994 and its reauthorization in 2000, 2005, and 2013 have changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. Survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking have been able to access services, and a new generation of families, professionals, and politicians have come to understand that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking require immediate intervention.
Getting Familiar with VAWA
In recognition of the severity of the crimes in domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
It dedicated resources to fostering:
- Community-coordinated responses that brought representatives together from the criminal legal system, the social services system, and private nonprofit organizations responding to domestic violence and sexual assault.
- Recognition and support for domestic violence shelters, crisis centers, and other community organizations working nationwide to end domestic violence.
- Federal prosecution of interstate domestic violence and sexual assault crimes.
- Federal guarantees of interstate enforcement for protection orders.
- Protections for survivors without citizenship status.
- A new focus on Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Congress improved upon the piece of legislation originally passed in 1994 by reauthorizing VAWA in 2000.
These updates to VAWA included:
- Identifying dating violence and stalking as domestic violence-related crimes.
- Creation of a legal assistance program for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
- Promoting supervised visitation programs for families experiencing abuse.
- Further protection for immigrant survivors by establishing U and T visas and focusing on victims of trafficking.
In addition to enhancing criminal, civil, and community responses to violence, the 2005 reauthorization showed Congress taking a different approach to address violence against women.
These approaches include:
- Provisions to exclusively protect immigrant survivors of domestic violence, as well as work to eradicate it.
- Tangible prevention strategies.
- Protections from eviction due to being a victim of domestic violence or stalking.
- The first federal funding stream to support crisis centers.
- Culturally-specific services for various communities.
- Enhanced programs and services for survivors with disabilities.
- Expansion to include children and teenagers rather than exclusively adult women.
President Barack Obama reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, with new provisions extending protections for Indigenous populations and LGBTQ+ people.
These provisions included:
- Resources to assist law enforcement in investigating cases of rape.
- Give colleges more tools to educate students about dating violence and sexual assault.
- Empower tribal courts to prosecute people who commit domestic violence on tribal lands, regardless of whether the aggressor is a member of the tribe.
- Continue allowing relief for immigrant victims of domestic violence.
- Provide further care and assistance for LGBTQ+ survivors.
Now, the act is on standby and protections are being lost, as the last full re-authorization was in 2013. It needs to be reauthorized every five years, but Congress only approved a short-term extension in 2018, and it expired in 2019.
On March 17, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that would prevent dating partners from purchasing or owning guns if they were convicted of domestic violence or abuse, instead of just applying the restriction to spouses or formerly married partners. The measure passed 244-172.
However, the legislation stalled in the Senate after opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which attacked a similar provision included in another House-passed bill to reauthorize VAWA in 2019 that also hit a roadblock in the upper chamber at the time.
Every day that passes, survivors are becoming more and more at-risk for continued violence.