By Linda Nwoke, Special to CAW
Several misconceptions exist on the issue of violence against women. However, key facts about violence against women are that it can be physical, psychological, or sexual and takes place in private and public spaces like the victims’ homes, the streets, or during the war. Secondly, violence against women and girls is a violation of human rights. In the United States, in a minute, over 15 women and men are physically abused by an intimate partner, with an average of over 10 million adults experiencing domestic violence per year. Generally, more women experience violence than men from their intimate partner during their lifetime.
Impact of Violence Against Women
Beyond the emotional, psychological, and physical effects of violence, which sometimes results in death, there is a substantial economic impact. Domestic violence affects the economy. It causes financial complexities that keep the survivors trapped in poverty and subsequent abusive relationships. Examples include preventing them from finding work, keeping a job, or using their wages to establish greater economic independence and safety. Thus, resulting in a devastating cost that transcends generations and a lifetime.
What Is the Violence Against Women Act?
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) creates and supports comprehensive, cost-effective responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. Since its enactment, VAWA programs, administered by the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS), have dramatically improved federal, tribal, state, and local responses to these crimes. Under the VAWA, convicted domestic violence spouses are not allowed to own firearms. The legislation also requires the federal government to notify state and local authorities if anyone convicted of domestic abuse attempts to purchase a gun and is dishonest about their conviction during the background check.
Origin of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
President Joe Biden sponsored the original bill on VAWA. As a Senator, he stood against any abuse of power. His advocacy led to VAWA which was passed in 1994 by Congress to recognize domestic violence-related crimes, including stalking and sexual assault.
In the beginning, VAWA was more of a criminal justice instrument to improve the way law enforcement and the court system treat domestic violence cases, misconceived initially as a personal issue between partners. Then, it provided the justice system with the necessary support – policies, resources, and training required to respond to cases. However, the bill’s passage became a significant achievement and instrument for protecting the rights to safety, autonomy, and justice for domestic and sexual violence.
Furthermore, coordinated community response has proven to be the most effective response in addressing domestic and sexual violence that goes beyond the justice system across the nation.
The Coordinated community responses are in various forms. Examples include the Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs), which has improved the quality of forensic evidence collection and healthcare for sexual assault victims and has also increased prosecution rates;
Another example is the Violence Fatality Review Teams, which helps to identify the role of system deficiencies contributing to the circumstances surrounding domestic violence homicides fatalities.
In recognition of these realities, over the years, Congress reauthorized three revisions to support VAWA. Thus, the revisions in 2000, 2005, and 2013 led to strengthening legal protections, creating civil solutions and general growth for all victims, irrespective of demographic factors like age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, immigration status, or sexual orientation. These amendments have led to the significant decline of incidents of Domestic Violence and sexual assault.
VAWA was the first federal legislation acknowledging domestic violence and sexual assault act crimes and providing federal funds to encourage community-based strategies to combat violence. According to reports by The Times, the majority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, called VAWA “an important law passed by Congress in the last 30 years.” He explained, “The expiration of VAWA three years ago put many lives in jeopardy,” said the report. However, recently, under Biden’s administration, the House of Representatives voted to renew funding for the lapsed law, which expired in 2019 under Trump’s administration.
Funding for the programs formed part of the Bidens administration over a $1.4 trillion spending package. It provided investigations into people who commit violence against women and rape crisis centers. Sen. Schumer responded by saying, “It is such good news that it is finally being reauthorized.”
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Before the 2022 VAW Reauthorization Act, members of the Democratic Party tried to get the extension of some prescriptions beyond spouses to convicted domestic abuse ‘dating partners.’ Still, they had to relent to get the bill passed. According to a report by The Times, some advocates wanted the expansion. For instance, Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, says,” Married women aren’t the only victims of domestic violence.” She also explained, “We must close the dating partner loophole that puts so many unprotected women and children at risk.”
On the other hand, some gun control groups wanted the President to use executive action to pass some of the revisions that the Democrats couldn’t achieve while applauding the new modifications. According to The Times report, John Feinblatt, the President of Everytown for Gun Safety, said, “Federal authorities will, at last, be required to let local law enforcement know when a domestic abuser or other convicted criminal tries to buy a gun illegally.” He explains, “which is a huge red flag for potential gun violence.”
What is Covered by the VAWA Reauthorization Act of 2022?
On March 16, 2022, President Biden signed bipartisan legislation that expands access to safety and support for all survivors of domestic violence. They include prevention efforts and the response to gender-based violence in whatever form or wherever it happens.
In a press release by the White House, the 2022 reauthorization of VAWA strengthens this landmark law, including by:
- Reauthorizing all current VAWA grant programs until 2027 and, in many cases, increasing authorization levels.
- Expanding special criminal jurisdiction of Tribal courts to cover non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault, child abuse, stalking, sex trafficking, and assaults on tribal law enforcement officers on tribal lands; and supporting the development of a pilot project to enhance access to safety for survivors in Alaska Native villages.
- Increasing services and support for survivors from underserved and marginalized communities—including for LGBTQ+ survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking; funding survivor-centered, community-based restorative practice services; and increasing support for culturally specific services and services in rural communities.
- Establishing a federal civil cause of action for individuals whose intimate visual images are disclosed without their consent, allowing a victim to recover damages and legal fees; creating a new National Resource Center on Cybercrimes Against Individuals; and supporting State, Tribal, and local government efforts to prevent and prosecute cybercrimes, including cyberstalking and the nonconsensual distribution of intimate images.
- Improving prevention and response to sexual violence, including through increased support for the Rape Prevention and Education Program and Sexual Assault Services Program; expansion of prevention education for students in institutions of higher education; and enactment of the Fairness for Rape Kit Backlog Survivors Act, which requires state victim compensation programs to allow sexual assault survivors to file for compensation without being unfairly penalized due to rape kit backlogs.
- Strengthening the application of evidence-based practices by law enforcement in responding to gender-based violence, including by promoting the use of trauma-informed, victim-centered training and improving homicide reduction initiatives.
Improving the healthcare system’s response to domestic violence and sexual assault, including through enhanced training for sexual assault forensic examiners.
- Updating the SMART Prevention Program and the CHOOSE Youth Program to reduce dating violence, help children who have been exposed to domestic violence, and engage men in preventing violence.
- Enacting the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Denial Notification Act to help state law enforcement investigate and prosecute cases against individuals legally prohibited from purchasing firearms who try to do so.
- The initiation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Denial Notification Act to aid and prosecute cases against individuals legally prohibited from purchasing firearms.