This month, Congress returned from its summer break to begin its fall legislative session. While our senators and representatives undoubtedly have many competing priorities before them, there is one that they must no longer avoid: the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Originally passed as Title IV of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, VAWA significantly improved how our government responds to and supports victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Before its passage, many people viewed matters related to gender-based violence (such as domestic violence) as a private or family that should not involve the police. While some still hold this outdated view, VAWA created an enforcement system for handling these crimes. It simultaneously funded essential social services for victims and survivors of gender-based violence. VAWA must be reauthorized every 5 years.
Since 1994, VAWA has been reauthorized three times. Each time, lawmakers have added new provisions that incorporate new research and the best practices related to gender-based violence. VAWA has always included a change in its language as part of the reauthorization process, evolving along our understanding of the nature of gender-based violence — and growing to increase our ability to respond to and support victims and survivors.
For example, in 2000, the VAWA reauthorization expanded protections for older and disabled survivors of abuse. In 2005, the reauthorization of VAWA encouraged community-coordinated responses that focused on partnerships between law enforcement, community service providers, health care providers, and health care providers. In 2013, the reauthorization added a nondiscrimination clause to protect all victims and survivors of gender-based violence — no matter their race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity, sex, disability, or sexual orientation.
VAWA is again up for reauthorization, as House Resolution 1585 (H.R. 1585). This bill has been passed by the House of Representatives, and is now before the Senate.
The 2019 reauthorization of VAWA would update the law as follows:
Enhance Judicial and Law Enforcement Tools to Combat Violence Against Women
Creates an audit and survey for the Office of Violence Against Women to track the declination of rape cases
Includes a portion of the Dignity Act to improve criminal justice responses to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.
Improves Services for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking
Clarifies equal emphasis on supporting training and capacity building in disability organizations and eligibility criteria and expands who can receive training and education
Provides Services, Protection, and Justice for Young Victims of Violence
Specifies that at least 80% of funds for campus grants will go to community-based, culturally specific prevention activities regarding sexual harassment in collaboration with state sexual assault coalitions
Includes bullying as an element that can be addressed in programs
Adds sexual orientation and gender identity to summary of those served by grants to combat violent crimes on campus
Strengthens the Healthcare System’s Response to Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking
Increases the ability of healthcare providers to address the needs of sexual violence and childhood abuse survivors through education
Improves the capacity of campus health centers to recognize and respond to intimate partner violence and sexual assault
Provides Safe Homes for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking
Ensures that survivors can maintain their housing in the event of a break-up with a spouse
Extends transitional housing grant opportunities to organizations serving underserved populations
Economic Security for Victims of Violence
Authorizes a study to examine the implications of gender-based violence on economic security, and to find solutions for credit issues for survivors
Preserves Programs for Communities of Color & Enhances Protections for Native American Women
Creates a tribal sexual offender and protection order registry
Gives all federally-recognized tribes criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and trafficking
Although we have made significant strides since 1994, VAWA is still necessary. According to an annual census taken by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), on a single day in September 2018, 74,823 victims received services for shelter, housing, transportation, legal assistance, prevention and education, and counseling. On that same day, there were 9,183 unmet requests for services — 76% of which (6,972) were for housing. The 2019 reauthorization of VAWA — which provides increased grant opportunities to organizations that work with underserved populations, like Blackburn Center — would help to change those numbers.