The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first signed into law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. Celebrating its 28th anniversary this year, VAWA created protections and established important programs, funding, and resources for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. (In this article, we will collectively refer to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking as intimate partner violence.)
In 1990, then-senator Joe Biden, who helped write and advocate for VAWA, stated that VAWA had “three broad, but simple goals: to make streets safer for women; to make homes safer for women; and to protect women’s civil rights.”
Stemming from decades of research on violence against women, the Act was passed as a response to courts’ shifting views that instances of domestic violence were not, in fact, private family matters—but criminal ones.
What Is VAWA?
VAWA was passed under the broader Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and created legislation to protect women from intimate partner violence. The Act outlines how different stakeholders in a community—including law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services, healthcare providers, and more—should work together to prevent and address instances of intimate partner violence.
VAWA was the first major legislation to pass that improved legal responses to and heightened awareness of domestic and sexual violence against women. It also created the first federal criminal law against battering. VAWA aimed to tackle violence against women in three ways:
- To prevent instances of intimate partner violence
- To increase investigation and prosecution of intimate partner violence
- To provide better support for victims of intimate partner violence
The first version of VAWA included legislation for mandatory arrest. This means that when law enforcement is called to the scene of an incident involving intimate partner violence, they must arrest one of the involved parties if they believe they have probable cause.
Among other things, VAWA established the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) within the Department of Justice. VAWA also improved education and training programs on gender-based violence for health professionals, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges, and victim advocates.
Additionally, VAWA includes a grant program to provide funding to states, local governments, and tribal governments to combat intimate partner violence incidents with better resources for investigation and prosecution. Nonprofits and universities can also apply for VAWA grants to help prevent, address, and research intimate partner violence, as well as provide support services to victims.
Reauthorization of VAWA in 2022
VAWA has been reauthorized four times since 1994: once in 2000, once in 2005, once in 2013, and most recently in March of 2022. Each time VAWA has been reauthorized, lawmakers have expanded, updated, and improved its provisions. This year’s reauthorization of VAWA provides for the funding of all existing grant programs through 2027.
In 2022, a number of strengthened provisions have been included, especially for underserved and marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ survivors and Indigenous communities.
Prior to this reauthorization, Tribal courts could do little against non-Native perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and other criminal activities outlined by VAWA, even if the crimes were committed on Tribal land. Groundbreakingly, this iteration of VAWA expands the criminal jurisdiction of Tribal courts to prosecute non-Native perpetrators.
Protections against cybercrimes have also been expanded to include victims of intimate image distribution. Under this protection, victims whose intimate visual images have been shared without their consent can sue those who have distributed the images to recover damages and legal fees.
Training for law enforcement members, healthcare professionals, and sexual assault forensic examiners will be improved under this reauthorization as well. Training programs will be revamped to provide training that is trauma-informed and victim-centered.
For a complete list of improvements under this VAWA reauthorization, you can review the VAWA fact sheet distributed by the White House on March 16th, 2022.
Impacts of VAWA
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, rates of intimate partner violence against both males and females declined by over 50% between 1993 and 2008. The rate of intimate partner homicides also decreased for both men and women.
Additionally, the University of Kentucky found that as a result of mandatory arrest, reporting of intimate partner violence increased by 51%. Still, there is some debate about the effectiveness of mandatory arrest. Some women may be less inclined to report incidents of intimate partner violence due to fear for their partner or fear of repercussions to themselves when their partner returns home.
Celebrate the Reauthorization of VAWA with Safe Shelter
At Safe Shelter, we recognize the huge impacts VAWA has had on communities’ responses to domestic violence. Although no legislation is perfect, we know that VAWA provides critical resources, support, and protection to all victims of domestic violence, and we are excited to celebrate the most recent reauthorization and improvements to VAWA.
We are here to serve you or your loved ones who are experiencing domestic violence. If you or someone you know needs help, do not hesitate to get in contact with us. You can call our office during business hours at 303-772-0432, our 24-hour crisis line at 303-772-4422, or click here to fill out our online question form at any time.