By: Mallory McGee
On September 13, 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed and this past Saturday marked twenty years since the groundbreaking legislation took the first step in acknowledging and combating the epidemic of violence against women. At the time the law was passed, Vice President Joe Biden was a U.S. Senator, and he helped advocate for the legislation and push it along to President Clinton.
The Act recognized the need for stronger stalking laws, provided legal remedies for battered immigrants, and forced states to honor orders of protection issued by other states. Funds were allocated for shelters, victim counseling, prevention education, and to assist law enforcement in properly handling domestic violence cases to lead to successful prosecutions and convictions. These programs are known as STOP programs – “Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors.”
Following VAWA, in 1995, the Office on Violence Against Women was created to work within the Department of Justice to process grants and to handle any legal and policy changes surrounding violence against women. In 1996, the National Domestic Violence Hotline began providing victims of abuse with an outlet to provide support and advice, especially in situations that may be particularly volatile.
VAWA was reauthorized for the first time in 2000 and again in 2005. These legislations reinforced all of the original provisions of 1994 and expanded upon them. For example, the term “dating violence” was included along with “domestic violence” and “sexual assault” to now encompass violence by dating partners. The Sexual Assault Services Program, a federally funded program for services for victims of sexual assault was created. Housing services would be provided to victims of domestic violence to avoid the women and children becoming homeless.
In 2013, VAWA was reauthorized for the third time amidst some criticism from Republican representatives. This reauthorization includes LGBT victims of violence and requires that they have access to all the programs and resources to be protected against violence and to cope with the trauma. VAWA also adds extra protections for women on college campuses, instructing schools to provide prevention plans and violence education programs, as well as requiring schools to keep records of all incidents reported along with the results of investigations.
We have come a long way since before the passage of the Violence Against Women Act. Many women and children have been able to receive the resources needed to overcome the violence and live their lives violence-free. However, as recent events in the news show, there is always more work to be done. In reflecting on VAWA twenty years later, Vice President Joe Biden said, “When violence against women is no longer societally accepted, no longer kept secret; when everyone understands that even one case is too many. That’s when it will change.”