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VAWA was originally enacted in 1994 and has been reauthorized in 2000, 2005, and 2013, with each new reauthorization expanding the law’s provisions.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.
Domestic Violence cases have been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found an 8% uptick of cases over the past year. On March 22, 2021, the Violence Against Women Act passed in the House of Representatives. It’s uncertain whether it will pass in the Senate.
Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021
It is critical that the House reauthorizes VAWA. The bill 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.
#VAWA2021: Expanding Targeted Funding
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 would increase funding for both culturally specific programs and prevention and education.
The legislation includes $40 million for the Department of Health and Human Services to specifically create programs to the needs of communities of color. This would include increasing language access for non-native English speakers in need of services. This is crucial in order to meet the needs of all survivors.
The bill also includes more funding for the Rape Prevention and Education Program. This boost in funding is aimed at programs dedicated to preventing sexual assault, and includes grants that go to states and community-based initiatives. The reauthorization would designate $110 million per fiscal year for these necessary programs.
#VAWA2021: Keeping Guns out of Stalkers’ Hands
The 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 VAWA reauthorization bill could save women’s lives.
#VAWA2021: 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. The 2021 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 The Violence Against Women Act
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If helping survivors of abuse back on their feet is something you’re passionate about, petition your senators to sign the Violence Against Women 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.