The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a federal law in the United States originally signed into law on 13th September 1994 by President Bill Clinton.
The Act provided 1.6 billion dollars for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. It automatically mandates convicted individuals to pay restitution, and makes provisions for violated individuals to seek civil redress in cases prosecutors decide not to prosecute.
The Act set up the Office on Violence Against Women inside the Department of Justice. VAWA was drafted by the office of Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and supported by a wide coalition of advocacy groups. It passed through Congress with bipartisan support in 1994. In the years, 2000 and 2005, VAWA was authorized again by bipartisan majorities in Congress and was signed by President George W. Bush.
The Act’s renewal in 2012 received objections from conservative Republicans, who disapproved the extension of the Act that included same-sex couples and the part that allowed abused illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas. In the end, VAWA was again reauthorized in 2013 after a protracted legislative battle from 2012 to 2013.
Benefits of VAWA
- One of the major milestones achieved by VAWA is its highlights on coordinated response of the community on domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. This has made it possible for courts; law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, victim services, and private bar associations to work jointly with each other in a coordinated fashion to assist victims as opposed to what existed before enactment at the state and local levels.
- VAWA as well provides support for community-based services and organizations engaged in working towards ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; especially organizations engaged in cultural and linguistic services.
- VAWA also supports work with tribes and tribal organizations that are aimed at putting an end to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking against Native American women.
- Also a lot of grant programs authorized in VAWA are funded by the U.S. Congress. The grant programs are mainly managed through the Office on Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice.
Criticisms against the Act
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) initially were concerned that the Act resulted to increased rash penalties which included detention of accused persons before trial which was “repulsive” to the constitution of U.S.
The ACLU, in a 2005 letter to senate, nevertheless, supported reauthorization of VAWA on the ground that unconstitutional DNA provision is not included in the Act.
The letter stated that VAWA is one of the most efficient law enacted against domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking and has considerably enhanced the law enforcement response to violence against women.
The bill was also critiqued by a few activists who thought that it did not take care of the factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that result to violent, abusive behavior. Some conservative activists also criticized VAWA for promoting divorce, marriage breakup and hatred for men.
In 2005, the reauthorization of VAWA defined the population covered under the term of “Underserved Populations” to include some geographic location, racial and ethnic populations, special needs population and any other population considered to fall under the category by the Attorney General or by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The law expired in 2011 but was later reauthorized.
The 2012 to 2013 legislative battle and re-authorization
In 2012, the law was brought up for re-authorization in the Congress. The VAWA’s 2012 Act renewal was opposed by conservative Republicans, who criticized the extension of the Act’s protection to same-sex couples and to provisions that permits abused illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, also referred to as U visas.
In April 2012, the Senate voted for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and the House afterward passed its own assessment and excluded the part in Senate bill that would protect gays, native Americans living in reservations, and illegal immigrant victims of domestic violence.
The version of the Act authorized in 2013, that allowed only incomplete protection for LGBT and Native Americans was discarded and the new act extended federal protections to gays, lesbians, transgender people, Native Americans and immigrants. In 2013, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 was signed by President Barack Obama.
Programs and services
The programs and services supported by the Violence Against Women laws include the following; the federal rape shield law, prevention of violence, support for evicted victims of domestic violence, provision of funds for victim assistance services such as rape services, establishment and management of crisis centers, hotlines and a lot more.
VAWA immigration provisions
Under VAWA, some individuals who may not be eligible for immigration benefits may claim US permanent residency on grounds that they have intimate relationship with a citizen of US or with an abusive permanent resident.
The individuals included in the immigration provisions of VAWA are:
- A wife or husband abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse with their children less than 21 years of age.
- A child abused by a U.S. citizen or green card parent’s holder.
- A parent abused by a child who is a citizen of U.S aged 21 years old and above.
Coverage for male victims of domestic abuse
The title of the Act and those of its sections refer to victims of domestic violence as women. However, the law is applied to both men and women and provides help to individuals of both genders.