Over the past few months the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been going through its third reauthorization process. It was reauthorized in 2000 and again in 2005. Both times the law was expanded with overwhelming affirmative votes in a bipartisan political environment. This time around, however, this very crucial legislation is being negotiated in a polarized setting. The House of Representatives and the Senate have approved their own versions of the bill.

What is the Violence Against Women Act?

The Violence Against Women Act was passed into federal law in October 1994 as part of the Violent Crime Control Act and Law Enforcement Act. . The law outlines a framework for improving criminal justice responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and increases the services available to victims.  Transitional housing grants to help meet the ongoing need victims have for safe, affordable housing after leaving emergency shelter is an example of the core supports imbedded in VAWA.  The Act also instituted the Office on Violence against Women (OVW) [1] within the Department of Justice (DoJ), which was made a permanent fixture in the 2000 reauthorization.

2012 Reauthorization issues.

VAWA was the first legislation acknowledging the unique challenges faced by sub-populations.  For the first time, the power of the abuser in the case of undocumented partners was recognized, making it possible for immigrant victims of domestic violence to seek justice without the fear of retribution or deportation. It also provided an avenue for them to seek legal status through the U-Visa. The U-Visa is an avenue for noncitizen victims of violent crime, including domestic violence, to get lawful status. It’s available to victims who are assisting or willing to assist authorities to investigate violent crimes.

Some policy makers are seeking to expand the number of U-Visas available to victims of domestic violence through this reauthorization process. It also includes stipulations that protect other vulnerable groups like Native Americans and LGBTQ persons. Currently, Native American victims of domestic violence have to rely on federal courts that are far away from reservations. If the bill goes through both House and Senate, tribal courts will be able to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence that occur on reservations. Recent studies also show that gay and transgender victims of domestic violence have trouble accessing essential protection services like shelter [2]. The reauthorization bill contains language explicitly condemning federally funded service providers from discriminating against sexual orientation or gender identity.

The statistics since VAWA was passed in 1994

  • Research estimates that VAWA saved nearly $14.8 billion in net averted social costs in its first 6 years alone. [3]
  • More victims report domestic violence to the police: There has been a 27% to 51% increase in reporting rates by women and a 37% increase in reporting rates by men. [3]
  • The rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women has decreased by 63% and the number of women killed by an intimate partner has decreased 24%. [3]
  • 51% of intimate partner homicide victims were foreign-born, while 45 % were born in the Unites States [4]
  • Native American women are more likely to be victims of sexual assault than the average woman in the United States. [4]

With these excellent statistics, you would think the current reauthorization process would be without obstacles, but that is unfortunately not the case. The bill has lately been the object of partisan politics. On April 16th, VAWA passed the Senate 68 to 31 – the 68 votes included 15 republicans. The bill that was passed in the Senate includes language to protect the special sub-populations mentioned in this article. The House of Representatives drafted their own version of VAWA that excludes provisions that would protect Native Americans, immigrants, and LGBTQ persons.


The next step is for the Senate and the House of Representatives to come together and work out the differences in their bills. If you care about vulnerable groups like LGBTQ, immigrant women, and Native Americans you can help by urging your representative to ensure the version adopted includes these important protections. Pass the real [5] VAWA here

The National Taskforce to End Sexual and Domestic Violence against Women has designated June 26th a day of action. You can get the latest updates from them on their twitter page; use #ReauthorizeVAWA, #RealVAWA and #VAWA to follow the conversation. You can also find them on Facebook.






Contributed by Grace Mwopa of the Human Services Council.


About Human Services Council

The Human Services Council strengthens New York's nonprofit human services sector, ensuring all New Yorkers across diverse neighborhoods, cultures, and generations reach their full potential.
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