What is the Violence Against Women Act?

What is the Violence Against Women Act?

Domestic abuse isn't new. But until recently, the issue was largely ignored, leaving victims with few ways to get help and support. That all began to change when the Violence Against Women Act became law. In the nearly 30 years since its inception, there have been sweeping nationwide changes designed to protect victims, punish abusers, and provide communities with the resources they need to support survivors. 

What is the Violence Against Women Act?

The Violence Against Women Act was signed into law in 1994 with bipartisan support. Until VAWA became law, abusers could cross state lines to avoid legal action for domestic violence. Pre-VAWA, many law enforcement agencies didn't take domestic violence calls seriously. Abuser cases were cited as "private matters," leaving victims vulnerable to continued and escalating violence.

VAWA changed the narrative surrounding abuse, sexual violence, and stalking. Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, the bill has changed national laws, giving more protection and support to victims. These protections include:

  • Requiring states to recognize legal protection orders from other states
  • Federal prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault cases that crossed state lines
  • Incentives designed to encourage states to create mandatory arrest laws for abusers
  • Grants for funding designed to educate judges, police officers, and other officials about gender-related violence
  • Grants for victims services, education, and awareness

VAWA also funded the creation of a new government office, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). This department is not a direct helping agency but works to identify public need. The OVW then provides grants to reduce instances of domestic violence and support victims. To date, OVW has awarded more than $9 billion in grants to local municipalities, training programs for law enforcement and prosecutors, victims advocate programs, education and awareness initiatives, and nationwide victim support programs.

VAWA Gets New Life in 2022

On March 15, 2022, President Biden signed a new authorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The reauthorization includes provisions that modernize and strengthen the law, including further education initiatives, more funding for prevention and victims support programs, and non-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ+ victims of domestic violence and victims of all genders.

The 2022 version also restores jurisdiction on tribal lands, allowing Native tribes to prosecute non-Native abusers. The 2022 version included provisions to increase housing programs in tribal and other rural areas. It also includes funding for culturally-specific domestic violence awareness, prevention, and support. 

Does the Violence Against Women Act Have an Impact?

VAWA had an impact from the beginning. Many experts credit VAWA with the dramatic reduction in domestic violence cases in America between 1993 and 2010. Cases of domestic violence dropped 64% during that time, aided by the heightened awareness and stricter laws.  

Since its inception in 1994, VAWA has been revamped several times to strengthen the law and make it more inclusive and effective. One study found significant shifts in how domestic violence is viewed and handled in our society and how victims are treated and supported since VAWA's introduction.

The law created sweeping changes nationwide, including:

  • Improved data tracking and collection of domestic abuse cases
  • More arrest policies, some allowing the prosecution of the abuser without the victim's cooperation
  • Creation of new victims advocate units within law enforcement and human services departments
  • Special government offices dedicated to preventing abuse, persecuting abusers, and supporting survivors
  • Better collaboration between police, medical staff, social services, and other agencies to provide comprehensive care for victims
  • Funding for community domestic violence support programs, shelters, and other initiatives to support survivors of abuse

Clearly, the Violence Against Women Act did not eliminate instances of abuse in our country. But the law and its reauthorizations have dramatically raised awareness about victims' issues. VAWA gave survivors more options to find support, feel less alone, create a safety plan, and get out safely. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, please reach out for help. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for 24/7 support. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
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