Why We Need the Violence Against Women Act

Violence Against Women Act

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is monumental piece of legislation that was the first federal law to specifically focus on ending domestic violence, providing valuable funding for victim services such as shelters, transportation, and childcare. It also supports education and crime prevention programs, and established and funds the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

History of the Violence Against Women Act

VAWA was originally enacted in 1994 and has been reauthorized in 2000, 2005, and 2013, with each new reauthorization expanding the law’s provisions. To provide some brief examples, the 2000 reauthorization created the U and T visas for immigrant victims of domestic violence and trafficking, the 2005 version added further provisions for immigrants and support for victims with disabilities, and the 2013 version enhanced protections for Native and LGBTQ people.

In July 2018, Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee introduced a bill that would reauthorize VAWA and broaden its provisions, but it’s uncertain whether it will pass. Lawmakers and attorney generals had been calling for a vote on the bill all summer, but House Speaker Paul Ryan did not bring the bill to the floor until October 1, when the House hastily agreed to extend the current VAWA to December 7 as part of its stopgap spending bill.

Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018

It is critical that the House reauthorizes VAWA before its expiration. Rep. Jackson Lee’s Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018 would implement significant expansions that could save lives and protect more women from domestic violence. To provide an understanding of why it’s so important for Congress to pass this reauthorization, here are a few new provisions that this bill would introduce, and how they would impact women.

#VAWA2018: More Inclusive Terms

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018 would broaden VAWA’s definition of domestic violence. It would include technological abuse (e.g. cyberstalking, restricting a person’s access to technology, or sharing a person’s photos or videos without consent) and economic abuse (e.g. controlling someone else’s financial decisions or wrongly using their economic resources).

Adding these terms to the definition of domestic violence would allow more domestic violence survivors to access assistance under VAWA. Technology has become ubiquitous in our lives and is a key way for abusers to harass, track, and intimidate their victims. In a survey conducted by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, 97 percent of victim service programs see people whose abusers use technology to victimize them. It’s important that the legal understanding of domestic violence be updated to reflect the ways in which abusers target their victims.

#VAWA2018: Keeping Guns out of Stalkers’ Hands

Jackson Lee’s reauthorization bill would also ban people convicted of stalking from owning guns, and make it illegal to sell a gun to someone convicted of stalking. It would further ensure that if someone convicted of domestic violence attempts to purchase a gun, the criminal background check system would notify law enforcement, making it easier to confiscate guns from domestic abusers who are legally banned from owning them.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a study has found that in states where domestic abusers are actually made to surrender their firearms, gun-related intimate partner homicide rates go down. By bringing the surrender of firearms to the federal level, the 2018 VAWA reauthorization bill could save women’s lives.

#VAWA2018: Providing Justice for Native Victims

The 2013 reauthorization of VAWA made it possible for Native tribal courts to prosecute certain non-Natives for domestic violence, a landmark victory for indigenous communities whose authority to bring non-Native domestic abusers to justice had previously not been recognized. Jackson Lee’s 2018 reauthorization would further expand tribal jurisdiction, adding stalking, sex trafficking, and sexual violence to the crimes for which a non-Native can be prosecuted.

The bill would further improve tribal access to federal crime information databases, require annual reporting on the statistics of missing and murdered Native women for the first time, and implement protocols for law enforcement to respond to these cases. Given that more than four out of every five Native women have suffered violence, and Native women are more likely to experience domestic violence compared to other groups, a federal requirement to investigate missing and murdered Native women would be a critical step toward addressing this alarming issue.

Time to Pass VAWA H.R. 6545!

These provisions are just a few examples of the benefits that the Violence Against Women Act of 2018 would bring into effect if it is passed by Congress.


The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 6545) would increase funding for local rape prevention efforts, improve protection for victims living in public housing, and provide law enforcement with more tools to remove firearms from domestic abusers who are not legally allowed to own them.

Write your letter to Congress to support the VAW Reauthorization Act!


Melissa Young is a writer and former copy editor from the San Francisco Bay Area who is passionate about social justice, feminism, and the Oxford comma. Her current work as a legal writer finds her drafting visa petitions that enable people to immigrate to the USA. She sustains herself by making music, drinking boba milk tea, and having existential conversations.

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