Violence Against Women Act Celebrates 18th Anniversary

This year marks the 18th anniversary of former President Clinton signing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) into law. This law, which was authored by then-Senator Joe Biden, is currently up for reauthorization by Congress.

Since its implementation, VAWA has helped start domestic violence task forces in rural areas, medical and crisis services to rape victims, and helped victims obtain protective orders, amongst other important aspects. Police and prosecutors are trained to recognize the needs of victims, specialized law enforcement now investigate crimes and there are now programs to help women start new lives. In addition, VAWA allowed battered immigrant spouses of U. S. citizens or green card holders to escape the cycle of abuse and made it more difficult for abusers to use immigration law to prevent victims from calling the police or seeking safety. Since the passage of VAWA, domestic violence rates have dropped by more than 60 percent.

In 2000, two other portions were added to VAWA to help immigrant victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes such as sexual assault.  The U-Visa allowed victims of specific serious crimes to come forward and report those crimes without fear of being deported. Instead, the perpetrator would be detained or deported. Victims would then have to show a certificate from law enforcement detailing that they assisted in the criminal investigation or prosecution. Meanwhile, the T-Visa focused on helping victims of human trafficking.

That said women are still greatly impacted by violent acts, including:

  • Three women are killed every day due to domestic violence
  • One in five women have been raped in their lifetimes and the majority were victimized before the age of 25
  • Teens and young adults suffer the highest rates of dating violence, sexual assault and stalking
  • Domestic violence costs the U.S. economy more than 8 billion dollars a year in lost productivity and health care costs alone

Vice President Joe Biden recently criticized Congress’ failure to act on the reauthorization of a strengthened VAWA.

“VAWA is just as important today as it was when it first became law, and I urge Congress to keep the promise we made to our daughters and our granddaughters on that day – that we would work together to keep them safe,” he said.

In April, the Senate passed a bill which expanded protections to undocumented immigrants, same-sex partners and Native American women, meanwhile the House passed its own bill without these protections and that removed many existing protections, including those for immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The two bills have yet to be resolved and Congress will only be in session for the first week of October until after the Presidential election.

Last year at Human Rights Initiative, 29 percent of our Women and Children’s Program cases were VAWA cases and 46 percent were U-Visa cases.  We could not help these survivors of violence without the protections that exist under VAWA.

Sources: Lynn Rosenthal author of “18th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act” in the 1 is 2 Many blog on Whitehouse.gov; Donovan Slack author of “Biden laments inaction on Violence Against Women Act” in the Politico 44: The Living Diary of the Obama Presidency blog on politico.com; and “HR 4970 Endangers Immigrant Victims” on 4vawa.com

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