In 1994, Congress passed Title IV of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. More commonly referred to as the Violence Against Women Act — or VAWA — this law improved the way that our government responds to and supports victims and survivors of gender-based violence, such as domestic violence and sexual assault. One key aspect of this bill is that the grant program of VAWA must be reauthorized every 5 years.
For most of its history, reauthorizing VAWA has not been an issue. This is a law that has received wide bipartisan support. Unfortunately, VAWA has not been updated and reauthorized since 2019.
We have written about this issue multiple times over the past three years, asking our representatives and senators to do what is right and reauthorize VAWA:
Act Now to Save the Violence Against Women Act (August 2018)
This Women’s History Month, Reauthorize VAWA (March 2019)
It’s Past Time to Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (September 2019)
Ending Violence Against Native American and Alaska Native Women (November 2019)
In March 2021, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1620, which would reauthorize VAWA with modest yet vital improvements to the law. Updates to the law are necessary to reflect our current understanding of gender-based violence, and what we need to do to support victims and survivors. H.R. 1620 meets the needs of diverse victims and survivors by:
Maintaining vital protections for all survivors;
Investing in prevention;
Supporting culturally specific organizations;
Authorizing grants to address the needs of underserved populations;
Authorizing grants to address the needs of LGBTQ survivors, survivors with disabilities and Deaf survivors, survivors in rural communities, and survivors who are older adults;
Ending impunity for non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault, child abuse co-occurring with domestic violence, stalking, sex trafficking, and assaults on tribal law enforcement officers on tribal lands;
Ensuring victim service providers can use VAWA funding to help victims experiencing a range of domestic violence behaviors, not just physical abuse;
Improving access to safe housing and economic security;
Providing alternatives to the legal system;
Disarming adjudicated abusers; and
Improving the healthcare system’s and workplace responses to gender-based violence.
You can read the full text of H.R. 1620 here.
While VAWA has been reauthorized by the House, the Senate has not yet taken action on it by taking up H.R.1620, writing their own VAWA reauthorization bill, or opting to just not take up the measure. The Senate also has the choice of extending VAWA’s authorization temporarily, and then taking action on H.R. 1620.
In other words, we need the Senate to take up and pass a bill that builds on H.R. 1620 and meets the needs of survivors. Unfortunately, this has not happened.
This brings us to our call for action: we need your help. Contact your Senators and ask them to take up H.R. 1620. You can do this via phone, email, social media, at town hall meetings, or in person. Contact information for U.S. Senators is available here.
When you reach out, ask your Senators to introduce and pass a bipartisan bill that builds on H.R. 1620. Ask them to commit to supporting the provisions in H.R. 1620 — not just generally supporting VAWA. A sample script is below:
My name is [your name], and I am a constituent from [your location and, if you are affiliated with a domestic violence or sexual assault program, the name of your program]. I am calling today to urge the Senate to introduce and pass a bipartisan VAWA reauthorization bill that builds on the House-passed H.R.1620 and meets the identified needs of survivors and communities. The Violence Against Women Act is one of the pillars of the federal response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. [Tell your Senator why VAWA has been so important to your community or, if you have a story you feel comfortable sharing, share your experience]. Every time VAWA has been reauthorized, it has been strengthened based on our increased understanding of gender-based violence, and this reauthorization can be no different. The COVID-19 pandemic, when the rates of domestic violence and sexual assault have increased, is not the time to roll back important protections or even to maintain the status quo. H.R.1620, which passed the House with strong bipartisan support, maintains protections for all victims, makes vital investments in sexual assault prevention and services, ensures sexual predators who prey on Native women can be held accountable, invests in culturally specific organizations, protects victims of domestic violence from intimate partner homicide, provides alternatives to the legal system for survivors who want them, and increases victims' access to safe housing and economic stability. As a constituent, I urge Senator [your Senator’s name] to prioritize the introduction and passage of a VAWA reauthorization that builds on the House-passed bill and meets the identified needs of survivors and communities. Can Senator [your Senator’s name] commit to that?
Alternatively, you can use social media to ask your Senators to support H.R. 1620. A list of Senators’ social media handles is available here. Be sure to include hashtags #VAWA4ALL and #VAWA21 when you tweet. You can also reference Domestic Violence Awareness Month (#DVAM).
The Violence Against Women Act is crucial to all members of our community — regardless of whether you have been personally affected by gender-based violence. We urge you to join with us on this VAWA Day of Action, and ask your Senators to reauthorize VAWA.
As always, if you need help, we are here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us any time at 1-888-832-2272 to get help today (TDD available). Calls to our hotline are free of charge and can be anonymous.