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. 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. 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 overturned the provision as exceeding the federal government's powers under the Commerce Clause.
VAWA was reauthorized by bipartisan majorities in Congress in 2000, and again in December 2005, and signed by President George W. Bush. 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. Ultimately, VAWA was again reauthorized in 2013, after a long legislative battle throughout 2012–2013.
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.
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. 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 did not exist before at 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:
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.
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".
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. 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".
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.
In 2005, the reauthorization of VAWA (as HR3402) 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". The reauthorization also "Amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968" to "prohibit officials from requiring sex offense victims to submit to a polygraph examination as a condition for proceeding with an investigation or prosecution of a sex offense."
In 2011, the law expired. In 2012 the law was up for reauthorization in Congress. 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 provision 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, 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.
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 undocumented individuals to claim temporary visas, also known as U visas. The U visa is restricted to 10,000 applicants annually whereas the number of applicants far exceeds these 10,000 for each fiscal year. 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. 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.
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. 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.
On February 12, 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. Possible solutions advanced were permitting either removal or appeal to federal courts by non-tribal defendants. 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.
On February 28, 2013, in a 286–138 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. The renewed act expanded federal protections to gays, lesbians and transgender individuals, Native Americans and immigrants.
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.
138 House Republicans voted against the version of the act that became law. 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.
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".
The Violence Against Women laws provide programs and services, including:
When a woman—the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence generally refers to petitioners as female as most are women—is the beneficiary of an order of protection, per VAWA it is generally enforceable nationwide under the terms of full faith and credit. Although the order may be granted only in a specific state, full faith and credit requires that it be enforced in other states as though the order was granted in their states.18 U.S.C. § 2265
VAWA allows for the possibility that certain individuals who might not otherwise be eligible for immigration benefits may petition for US permanent residency on the grounds of a close relationship with a US citizen or permanent resident who has been abusing them. The following persons are eligible to benefit from the immigration provisions of VAWA:
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. Individual organizations have not been successful in using VAWA to provide equal coverage for men.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. 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." 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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