Violence Against Women Act

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This article is about United States federal law. For other related topics, see Outline of domestic violence.

The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a United States federal law (Title IV, sec. 40001-40703 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, H.R. 3355) signed as Pub.L. 103–322 by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994 (codified in part at 42 U.S.C. sections 13701 through 14040). The Act provided $1.6 billion toward investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave un-prosecuted. The Act also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.

VAWA was drafted by the office of Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), with support from a broad coalition of advocacy groups.[1] The Act passed through Congress with bipartisan support in 1994, clearing the United States House of Representatives by a vote of 235–195 and the Senate by a vote of 61–38, although the following year House Republicans attempted to cut the Act's funding.[2] In the 2000 Supreme Court case United States v. Morrison, a sharply divided Court struck down the VAWA provision allowing women the right to sue their attackers in federal court. By a 5–4 majority, the Court's conservative wing overturned the provision as exceeding the federal government's powers under the Commerce Clause.[3][4]

VAWA was reauthorized by bipartisan majorities in Congress in 2000, and again in December 2005, and signed by President George W. Bush.[5] The Act's 2012 renewal was opposed by conservative Republicans, who objected to extending the Act's protections to same-sex couples and to provisions allowing battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas.[6] Ultimately, VAWA was again reauthorized in 2013, after a long legislative battle throughout 2012–2013.[7]


The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna, Austria, in 1993, and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the same year, concluded that civil society and governments have acknowledged that domestic violence is a public health policy and human rights concern. In the United States, according to the National Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Survey of 2010 1 in 6 women suffered some kind of sexual violence induced by their intimate partner during the course of their lives.[8]

The Violence Against Women Act was developed and passed as a result of extensive grassroots efforts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with advocates and professionals from the battered women's movement, sexual assault advocates, victim services field, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors' offices, the courts, and the private bar urging Congress to adopt significant legislation to address domestic and sexual violence. Since its original passage in 1994, VAWA's focus has expanded from domestic violence and sexual assault to also include dating violence and stalking. It funds services to protect adult and teen victims of these crimes, and supports training on these issues, to ensure consistent responses across the country. One of the greatest successes of VAWA is its emphasis on a coordinated community response to domestic violence, sex dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; courts, law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services, and the private bar currently work together in a coordinated effort that had not heretofore existed on the state and local levels. VAWA also supports the work of community-based organizations that are engaged in work to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; particularly those groups that provide culturally and linguistically specific services. Additionally, VAWA provides specific support for work with tribes and tribal organizations to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking against Native American women.

Many grant programs authorized in VAWA have been funded by the U.S. Congress. The following grant programs, which are administered primarily through the Office on Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice have received appropriations from Congress:

  • STOP Grants (State Formula Grants)
  • Transitional Housing Grants
  • Grants to Encourage Arrest and Enforce Protection Orders
  • Court Training and Improvement Grants
  • Research on Violence Against Native American Women
  • National Tribal Sex Offender Registry
  • Stalker Reduction Database
  • Federal Victim Assistants
  • Sexual Assault Services Program
  • Services for Rural Victims
  • Civil Legal Assistance for Victims
  • Elder Abuse Grant Program
  • Protections and Services for Disabled Victims
  • Combating Abuse in Public Housing
  • National Resource Center on Workplace Responses
  • Violence on College Campuses Grants
  • Safe Havens Project
  • Engaging Men and Youth in Prevention

Debate and legal standing

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had originally expressed concerns about the Act, saying that the increased penalties were rash, that the increased pretrial detention was "repugnant" to the U.S. Constitution, that the mandatory HIV testing of those only charged but not convicted was an infringement of a citizen’s right to privacy, and that the edict for automatic payment of full restitution was non-judicious (see their paper: "Analysis of Major Civil Liberties Abuses in the Crime Bill Conference Report as Passed by the House and the Senate", dated September 29, 1994). The ACLU has, however, supported reauthorization of VAWA on the condition that the "unconstitutional DNA provision" be removed.[9]

The ACLU, in its July 27, 2005 'Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, S. 1197' stated that "VAWA is one of the most effective pieces of legislation enacted to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It has dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women and has provided critical services necessary to support women in their struggle to overcome abusive situations".[10]

Some activists oppose the bill. Janice Shaw Course, a senior fellow at Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute called the Act a "boondoggle" which "ends up creating a climate of suspicion where all men are feared or viewed as violent and all women are viewed as victims". She described the Act as creating a "climate of false accusations, rush to judgment and hidden agendas" and criticized it for failing to address the factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as leading to violent, abusive behavior.[11] Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly denounced VAWA as a tool to "fill feminist coffers" and argued that the Act promoted "divorce, breakup of marriage and hatred of men".[6]

In 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States held part of VAWA unconstitutional in United States v. Morrison on federalism grounds. In that decision, only the civil rights remedy of VAWA was struck down. The provisions providing program funding were unaffected.[12]

In 2005, the reauthorization of VAWA defined what population benefited under the term of "Underserved Populations" described as " Populations underserved because of geographic location, underserved racial and ethnic populations, populations underserved because of special needs (such as language barriers, disabilities, alienage status, or age) and any other population determined to be underserved by the Attorney General or by the Secretary of Health and Human Services as appropriate".[13]

In 2011, the law expired.[14] In 2012 the law was up for reauthorization in Congress.[15] Different versions of the legislation have been passed along party lines in the Senate and House, with the Republican-sponsored House version favoring the reduction of services to illegal immigrants and LGBT individuals. Another area of contention is the provison of the law giving Native American tribal authorities jurisdiction over sex crimes involving non-Native Americans on tribal lands. This provision is considered to have constitutional implications,[citation needed] as non-tribes people are under the jurisdiction of the United States federal government and are granted the protections of the U.S. Constitution, protections that tribal courts do not often have. The two bills were pending reconciliation, and a final bill did not reach the President's desk before the end of the year, temporarily ending the coverage of the Act after 18 years, as the 112th Congress adjourned.

2012–2013 legislative battle and reauthorization

Senate vote on Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013
  Both yes
  One yes, one no
  Both no

The Act's 2012 renewal was opposed by conservative Republicans, who objected to extending the Act's protections to same-sex couples and to provisions allowing battered illegal individuals to claim temporary visas, also known as U-Visas.[6] The U-visa is restricted to 10,000 applicants annually whereas the number of applicants far exceeds these 10,000 for each fiscal year.[13] In order to be considered for the U-visa, one of the requirements for illegal immigrant women is that they need to cooperate in the detainment of the abuser.[16] Studies show that 30 to 50% of immigrant women are suffering from physical violence and 62% experience physical or psychological abuse in contrast to only 21% of citizens in the United States.[17]

In April 2012, the Senate voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and the House subsequently passed its own measure (omitting provisions of the Senate bill that would protect gays, Native Americans living in reservations, and illegal immigrants who are victims of domestic violence). Reconciliation of the two bills was stymied by procedural measures, leaving the re-authorization in question.[18] The Senate's 2012 re-authorization of VAWA was not brought up for a vote in the House.

In 2013, the question of jurisdiction over offenses in Indian country continued to be at issue over the question of whether defendants who are not tribal members would be treated fairly by tribal courts or afforded constitutional guarantees.[19]

On February 11, 2013, The Senate passed an extension of the Violence Against Women Act by a vote of 78-22. The measure went to the House of Representatives where jurisdiction of tribal courts and inclusion of same-sex couples were expected to be at issue.[20] Possible solutions advanced were permitting either removal or appeal to federal courts by non-tribal defendants.[14] The Senate had tacked on the Trafficking Victims Protection Act which is another bone of contention due to a clause which requires provision of reproductive health services to victims of sex trafficking.[21]

House vote on Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013
  Democratic aye
  Republican aye
  Abstention or no representative seated
  Republican no

On February 28, 2013, in a 286 to 138 vote, the House passed the Senate's all-inclusive version of the bill. House Republicans had previously hoped to pass their own version of the measure — one that substantially weakened the bill's protections for certain categories. The stripped down version, which allowed only limited protection for LGBT and Native Americans, was rejected 257 to 166.[22] The renewed act expanded federal protections to gays, lesbians and transgender individuals, Native Americans and immigrants.[23][24][25]

On March 7, 2013, President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.[26]

Conference of Catholic Bishops

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed portions of the act that addressed the categories "sexual orientation" and "gender identity", calling the sections unnecessary to achieve equal protection of all persons.[27]

After passage

138 House Republicans voted against the version of the act that became law.[28] However, several, including Steve King (R-Iowa), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Tim Walberg (R-Michigan), Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri), Keith Rothfus (R-Pennsylvania), and Tim Murphy (R-Pennsylvania), claimed to have voted in favor of the act. Some have called this claim disingenuous because the group only voted in favor of a GOP proposed alternative version of the bill that did not contain provisions intended to protect gays, lesbians and transgender individuals, Native Americans and illegal immigrants.[29]

On September 12, 2013, at an event marking the 19th anniversary of the bill, Vice President Joe Biden criticized the Republicans who slowed the passage of the reauthorization of the act as being "this sort of Neanderthal crowd".[30]

Programs and services

The Violence Against Women laws provide programs and services, including:

  • Federal rape shield law.[31]
  • Community violence prevention programs
  • Protections for victims who are evicted from their homes because of events related to domestic violence or stalking
  • Funding for victim assistance services, like rape crisis centers and hotlines
  • Programs to meet the needs of immigrant women and women of different races or ethnicities
  • Programs and services for victims with disabilities
  • Legal aid for survivors of domestic violence

Coverage of male victims

Although the title of the Act and the titles of its sections refer to victims of domestic violence as women, the operative text is gender-neutral, providing coverage for male victims as well.[32] Individual organizations have not been successful in using VAWA to provide equal coverage for men.[33][dubious ] The law has twice been amended in attempts to address this situation. The 2005 reauthorization added a non-exclusivity provision clarifying that the title should not be construed to prohibit male victims from receiving services under the Act.[34] The 2013 reauthorization added a non-discrimination provision that prohibits organizations receiving funding under the Act from discriminating on the basis of sex, although the law allows an exception for "sex segregation or sex-specific programming" when it is deemed to be "necessary to the essential operations of a program."[35] Jan Brown, the Founder and Executive Director of the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women contends that the Act may not be sufficient to ensure equal access to services.[36]

Related developments

Official federal government groups that have developed, being established by President Barack Obama, in relation to the Violence Against Women Act include the White House Council on Women and Girls and the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.[37][38] The ultimate aims of both groups are to help improve and/or protect the well-being and safety of women and girls in the United States.[37][38]

See also


  1. [1] Report: 1 Is Too Many: Twenty Years Fighting Violence Against Women and Girls from The White House
  2. Cooper, Kenneth (July 15, 1995). "House GOP Budget Cutters Try to Limit Domestic Violence Programs". Washington Post. Retrieved April 19, 2012. 
  3. Bierbauer, Charles (May 18, 2000). "Supreme Court strikes down Violence Against Women Act". CNN. Archived from the original on February 13, 2008. Retrieved April 19, 2012. 
  4. Greenhouse, Linda (May 16, 2000). "Women lose right to sue attackers in federal court". New York Times. Retrieved April 19, 2012. 
  5. "President Signs H.R. 3402, the "Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005"" (Press release). George W. Bush White House archives. January 5, 2006. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Weisman, Jonathan (March 14, 2012). "Women Figure Anew in Senate's Latest Battle". The New York Times. Retrieved April 19, 2012. 
  7. "President signs Violence Against Women Act -". CNN. March 7, 2013. 
  8. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report is a publication of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, Director National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN, Director Division of Violence Prevention Howard R. Spivak, MD, Director Suggested Citation: Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  9. "Tell Congress to Support the Violence Against Women Act". American Civil Liberties Union. Archived from the original on 2006-11-06. 
  10. "ACLU Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, S. 1197". ACLU. July 27, 2005. 
  11. Crouse, Janice Shaw (March 19, 2012). "The Violence Against Women Act Should Outrage Decent People". U.S. News and World Report (Opinion). 
  12. United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 627; "For these reasons, we conclude that Congress' power under § 5 does not extend to the enactment of § 13981.... The judgment of the Court of Appeals is Affirmed." (at end of opinion section III)
  13. 13.0 13.1 Olivares, Mariela. 2014. "Battered by Law: The Political Subordination of Immigrant Women." American University Law Review 64(2):231-283
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Senate votes to reauthorize Violence Against Women Act". USA Today. February 12, 2013. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  15. Bolduan, Kate (16 May 2012). "House passes GOP version of Violence Against Women Act renewal". CNN. Washington. 
  16. Berger, Susan. 2009. "(Un) Worthy: Latina Battered Immigrants Under VAWA and the Construction of Neoliberal Subjects." Citizenship Studies 13(3):201-217
  17. Levine, Helisse and Shelly Peffer. 2012. "Quiet Casualties: An Analysis of U Non- Immigrant Status of Undocumented Immigrant Victims of Intimate Partner Violence." International Journal of Public Administration 35(9):634. pg 635
  18. Steinhauer, Jennifer (July 31, 2012). "THE CAUCUS; G.O.P. Push on Domestic Violence Act". New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2012. 
  19. Jonathan Weisman (February 10, 2013). "Measure to Protect Women Stuck on Tribal Land Issue". The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2013. If a Native American is raped or assaulted by a non-Indian, she must plead for justice to already overburdened United States attorneys who are often hundreds of miles away. 
  20. Jonathan Weisman (February 12, 2013). "Senate Votes Overwhelmingly to Expand Domestic Violence Act". The New York Times. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  21. Editors, The New York Times (February 15, 2013). "Renew the Violence Against Women Act" (editorial). The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2013. What should be an uncontroversial bill has been held up by Republicans over the Obama administration’s proper insistence that contractors under the act afford victims access to a full range of reproductive health services. 
  22. "VAWA victory shows that House GOP needs Democrats". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  23. Camia, Catalina (February 28, 2013). "Congress sends Violence Against Women Act to Obama". USA Today. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  24. LeTrent, Sarah (March 14, 2013). "Violence Against Women Act shines a light on same-sex abuse". CNN. Retrieved May 2, 2013. 
  25. Nondiscrimination Grant Condition in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013
  26. Pub. L. No. 113-4, 127 Stat. 54 (March 7, 2013).
  27. "USCCB Committees Express Concerns Over Domestic Violence Legislation". United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. March 6, 2013. Retrieved May 2, 2013. 
  29. Bendery, Jennifer (March 7, 2013). "Violence Against Women Act Now Touted By Republicans Who Voted Against Bill". Huffington Post. Retrieved 17 September 2013. 
  30. "Biden: 'Neanderthal crowd' slowed VAWA renewal". Politico. Retrieved 17 September 2013. 
  31. Factsheet: The Violence Against Women Act from The White House.
  32. Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Act No. H.R. 3355 of 1994 (in English)
  33. Franklin, Robert (February 4, 2013). "VAWA must be reformed for domestic violence rates to come down". The Hill. Capitol Hill Publishing Corp. 
  34. Article Sec. 3(b)(8), Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, Act No. H.R. 3402 of 2005 (in English)
  35. Article Sec. 3(b)(4), Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, Act No. S. 47 of 2013 (in English)
  36. "Saving Our Men - The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women". June 13, 2013. 
  37. 37.0 37.1 A renewed call to action to end rape and sexual assault, The White House Blog , Washington, DC: Valerie Jarrett, 22 January 2014, Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  38. 38.0 38.1 Memorandum: Establishing White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault,, Washington, DC: The White House, 22 January 2014, Retrieved 10 June 2014.

External links