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Violence Against Women Act

First authorized by Congress in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has created a compre­hensive response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. As a result of this life-saving measure, community-based agencies have provided enhanced services that keep victims safe and the crimi­nal justice system has held more offenders accountable for their actions.

Why is VAWA important to victims of domestic violence?

VAWA has had a significant impact on ending violence. Since its passage:

  • Acts of domestic violence have been reported as much as 51% more frequently, which has resulted in a greater number of arrests; [1], [2]
  • Incidents of domestic violence are decreasing, including a 67% reduction in the rate of intimate partner violence (IPV) and a 35%-46% decrease in the rate of IPV homicides;[3]
  • Within six years of implementation, VAWA saved $12.6 billion nationwide;[4]
  • Within three years of instituting a VAWA-funded Lethality Assessment Program in Maryland, intimate partner homicides were reduced by 41%;[5] and
  • State laws now reflect the serious nature of violence against women, such that: [6]
  • All states now include stalking as a crime;
  • Spousal rape is treated at the same level of crime as stranger rape in all states;
  • Warrantless arrests have been authorized by all states when law enforcement determines existence of probable cause in misdemeanor domestic violence cases;
  • In every state, an offender will face criminal sanctions if he/she violates a civil protection order; and
  • Over 70% of the states and territories have adopted policies regarding workplace violence, including domestic and sexual violence, as well as stalking.

VAWA has improved the response of the criminal justice system toward women who have experienced violence in many ways, including: [7]

  • Helping communities cultivate specialized law enforcement and prosecution units, as well as special domestic violence dockets, which has led to an increase in the rates of prosecution, conviction and sentencing of offenders;
  • Providing education and training specifically geared toward law enforcement, judges, prosecutors and victim advocates who work with domestic violence survivors;
  • Requiring any victim’s protective order to be recognized and enforced in any state, tribal and territorial jurisdictions of the United States;
  • Holding offenders accountable by strengthening federal penalties for repeat sex offenders; and
  • Developing a federal “rape shield law,” which limits offenders from using a victim’s past sexual behavior against them in court.

How does VAWA help victims of domestic violence?

VAWA provides necessary services to victims such as:

  • Domestic violence shelters, which address victims’ immediate and long-term needs while helping victims protect themselves and their children;[8]
  • 24-hour crisis response, safety planning and assessment, accompaniment of victim to a law enforcement agency, medical care and court, emotional and post crisis support, information and referral regarding issues such as protective orders, housing and utilities assistance; [9]
  • Legal services for victims - a correlation exists between an increase in the amount of legal services available and a decrease in intimate partner violence; [10] and
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline, which serves over 22,000 victims per month and has served over three million callers since its inception. [11]

 VAWA also helps victims by: [12]

  • Creating legal protections for domestic violence victims who live in public housing, which prohibits denial of admission based on the grounds that the applicant is or has been a victim of domestic violence;
  • Increasing protections for victims of domestic violence who are immigrants or victims of trafficking;
  • Expanding access to free legal assistance for immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or trafficking; and
  • Including temporary injunctions within the definition of a protection order, when the order’s purpose is to provide safety and protection for survivors of violence against women.

VAWA 2013

After lengthy inaction due to partisan gridlock, VAWA was finally reauthorized and signed into law on March 7, 2013. VAWA 2013 reauthorized and improved upon lifesaving services for all victims of domestic violence and included critical protections for immigrants, LGBT victims, Native women, college students and youth, and public housing residents.

Read more about VAWA 2013 from the National Network to End Domestic Violence.