The Violence Against Women Act (2022 Reauthorization) What it does and a couple of things it doesn’t

The Violence Against Women Act (2022 Reauthorization)

What it does and a couple of things it doesn’t

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first passed in in 1994, sponsored by then-Senator and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Joe Biden, who has called it the proudest accomplishment of his career.

At the time, domestic violence,  one of the key crimes VAWA addressed, frequently flourished and persisted without mitigation, in part due to the state-specific nature of pertinent laws.  Impact at the time was that perpetrators of domestic violence could just flee their state to avoid prosecution, if their crimes were (atypically) about to be addressed.

Compounding the lack of protections for women in domestic violence situations was an oftentimes laissez faire attitude of law enforcement.  This typically derived from a combination of the common attitude that such crimes were “family business” along with lack of response from police as an avoidance of the risks to themselves involved in interventions.  The pleas of, and risks to, the victims were, as a result, unanswered (sometimes in clearly stated policy) and many women suffered and many women died.  The impact on their children was also extremely damaging and in too many cases created a breeding ground for the perpetuation of violent behavior.

A White House fact sheet summarizes VAW as follows:

VAWA has improved the criminal justice response to violence against women by:

  • holding rapists accountable for their crimes by strengthening federal penalties for repeat sex offenders and creating a federal “rape shield law,” which is intended to prevent offenders from using victims’ past sexual conduct against them during a rape trial; 
  • mandating that victims, no matter their income levels, are not forced to bear the expense of their own rape exams or for service of a protection order; 
  • keeping victims safe by requiring that a victim’s protection order will be recognized and enforced in all state, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions within the United States; 
  • increasing rates of prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of offenders by helping communities develop dedicated law enforcement and prosecution units and domestic violence dockets; 
  • ensuring that police respond to crisis calls and judges understand the realities of domestic and sexual violence by training law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victim advocates and judges; VAWA funds train over 500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and other personnel every year; 
  • providing additional tools for protecting women in Indian country by creating a new federal habitual offender crime and authorizing warrantless arrest authority for federal law enforcement officers who determine there is probable cause when responding to domestic violence cases. VAWA has ensured that victims and their families have access to the services they need to achieve safety and rebuild their lives by: 
  • responding to urgent calls for help by establishing the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has answered over 3 million calls and receives over 22,000 calls every month; 92% of callers report that it’s their first call for help; 
  • improving safety and reducing recidivism by developing coordinated community responses that bring together diverse stakeholders to work together to prevent and respond to violence against women,
  • focusing attention on the needs of underserved communities, including creating legal relief for battered immigrants so that abusers cannot use the victim’s immigration status to prevent victims from calling the police or seeking safety, and supporting tribal governments in building their capacity to protect American Indian and Alaska Native women. VAWA has created positive change. 

Since VAWA was passed: 

  • Fewer people are experiencing domestic violence.  Between 1993 to 2010, the rate of intimate partner violence declined 67%;  
  • Between 1993 to 2007, the rate of intimate partner homicides of females decreased 35% and the rate of intimate partner homicides of males decreased 46%. 
  • More victims are reporting domestic and sexual violence to police, and reports to police are resulting in more arrests. • States have reformed their laws to take violence against women more seriously:  
  • All states have reformed laws that previously treated date or spousal rape as a lesser crime than stranger rape;  
  • All states have passed laws making stalking a crime;  
  • All states have authorized warrantless arrests in misdemeanor domestic violence cases where the responding officer determines that probable cause exists;  
  • All states provide for criminal sanctions for the violation of a civil protection order;  
  • Many states have passed laws prohibiting polygraphing of rape victims;  
  • Over 35 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted laws addressing domestic and sexual violence, and stalking in the workplace. These laws vary widely and may offer a victim time off from work to address the violence in their lives, protect victims from employment discrimination related to the violence, and/or provide unemployment insurance to survivors who must leave their jobs because of the abuse

Some of these benefits were passed as part of reauthorizations in 2000, 2005 and 2013 despite tremendous opposition from many Republicans and outside groups, including the NRA.  After that it languished despite significant gaps in content including full protections for LGBTQ+  victims and prohibitions against the sale of firearms to those convicted of non-spousal intimate partner violence (commonly known as the boyfriend loophole). 

This year, another push, led in the Senate by Senator Feinstein (D-CA) Senator Durbin (D-IL) Senator Ernst (R-IA) Senator Murkowski (R-AK), finally achieved success, though not without compromise.  The following link leads to a comprehensive summary of its contents.

One unfortunate omission is closing the “boyfriend loophole”.  The compromise which eliminated this provision was made to finally allow passage, according to its sponsors.  It is outrageous that anyone could possibly consider it acceptable for an abuser to purchase or own a gun when almost 4 women a day are killed by intimate partners.

Another critical omission is the provision of support for victims of gender-based violence while abroad.   The Violence Against Women Task Force is working with our allies at Pathways to Safety International (PTSI), who have lobbied *thus far (unsuccessfully) for such support, to address the gap and answer a massive unmet need.

The 9 million Americans living abroad and the 93 million Americans traveling internationally during an average year are too often unaware of the challenges to finding support when it is needed the most and suffer needless incremental harm in the absence of an easily accessible and robust source of assistance.

The team is currently working, in collaboration with PTSI,  on extensive research for a report detailing the situation for Americans living and traveling abroad when they become victims of violence.  Our hope is to be able to present this report to members of the administration and of the legislature with recommendations on actions designed to provide support and services for Americans abroad.  A key action we want to see is the re-funding of PTSI which is the only organization formed specifically to address the needs of this population and which lost grant funding from the Office of Victims of Crime in 2019.

We continue to need volunteers to help complete this project and encourage you to consider joining us for one of our volunteer briefings, held on the 3rd Monday of each month at noon ET.  These are listed on the DA and GWC websites on the calendars or you can write to [email protected]Besides researchers we are hoping to find volunteer writers and editors as well as graphic designers to help design and prepare the report, including many charts, graphs and other infographics.

A final important note.  We are proposing a resolution at the DA Annual General Meeting to form a Global Gender-based Violence Task Force.  Our hope that this will provide a clear signal of the importance members place on addressing the issue.  It will also provide the basis for a global public relations effort to alert citizens abroad of the problem and to encourage them to vote for Democrats who are committed to being part of the answer.