Violence Against Women Act
The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) was a United States federal law (Title IV, sec. 40001-40703 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, H.R. 3355) signed as Pub.L. 103–322 by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994 (codified in part at 42 U.S.C. sections 13701 through 14040). The Act provided $1.6 billion toward investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave un-prosecuted. The Act also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.
VAWA was cosponsored by Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in 1994 and gained support from a broad coalition of advocacy groups. The Act passed through Congress with bipartisan support in 1994, clearing the United States House of Representatives by a vote of 235–195 and the Senate by a vote of 61–38, although the following year House Republicans attempted to cut the Act's funding. In the 2000 Supreme Court case United States v. Morrison, a sharply divided Court struck down the VAWA provision allowing women the right to sue the accused in federal court. By a 5–4 majority, the Court overturned the provision as exceeding the federal government's powers under the Commerce Clause.
VAWA was reauthorized by bipartisan majorities in Congress in 2000 and again in December 2005. The Act's 2012 renewal was opposed by conservative Republicans, who objected to extending the Act's protections to same-sex couples and to provisions allowing battered undocumented immigrants to claim temporary visas, but it was reauthorized in 2013, after a long legislative battle. As a result of the United States federal government shutdown of 2018–2019, the Violence Against Women Act expired on December 21, 2018. It was temporarily reinstated via a short-term spending bill on January 25, 2019, but expired again on February 15, 2019. The House of Representatives passed a bill reauthorizing VAWA in April 2019 that includes new provisions protecting transgender victims and banning individuals convicted of domestic abuse from purchasing firearms. In an attempt to reach a bipartisan agreement, Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) led months of negotiation talks that came to a halt in November 2019. Senator Joni Ernst has said she plans to introduce a new version of the bill and hopes it will pass in the U.S. Senate.
The House version of VAWA, H.R. 1585, currently does not include any federal penalties for female genital mutilation (FGM). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. are at risk of FGM or have already undergone the operation. Independent Women's Forum has urged Congress to include provisions enhancing penalties for female genital mutilation as well as funding to combat FGM. The House version also does not include measures to deter honor killings, sex trafficking or forced child marriages.
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The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna, Austria, in 1993, and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the same year, concluded that civil society and governments have acknowledged that domestic violence is a public health policy and human rights concern. In the United States, according to the National Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Survey of 2010 1 in 6 women suffered some kind of sexual violence induced by their intimate partner during the course of their lives.
The Violence Against Women Act was developed and passed as a result of extensive grassroots efforts in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Advocates for the battered women's movement included sexual assault advocates, individuals from victim services, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors' offices, the courts, and the private bar. They urged Congress to adopt significant legislation to address domestic and sexual violence. One of the greatest successes of VAWA is its emphasis on a coordinated community response to domestic violence, sex dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; courts, law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services, and the private bar currently work together in a coordinated effort that did not exist before at the state and local levels. VAWA also supports the work of community-based organizations that are engaged in work to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; particularly those groups that provide culturally and linguistically specific services. Additionally, VAWA provides specific support for work with tribes and tribal organizations to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking against Native American women.
Many grant programs authorized in VAWA have been funded by the U.S. Congress. The following grant programs, which are administered primarily through the Office on Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice have received appropriations from Congress:
- STOP Grants (State Formula Grants)
- Transitional Housing Grants
- Grants to Encourage Arrest and Enforce Protection Orders
- Court Training and Improvement Grants
- Research on Violence Against Native American Women
- National Tribal Sex Offender Registry
- Stalker Reduction Database
- Federal Victim Assistants
- Sexual Assault Services Program
- Services for Rural Victims
- Civil Legal Assistance for Victims
- Elder Abuse Grant Program
- Protections and Services for Disabled Victims
- Combating Abuse in Public Housing
- National Resource Center on Workplace Responses
- Violence on College Campuses Grants
- Safe Havens Project
- Engaging Men and Youth in Prevention
Debate and legal standingEdit
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had originally expressed concerns about the Act, saying that the increased penalties were rash, that the increased pretrial detention was "repugnant" to the U.S. Constitution, that the mandatory HIV testing of those only charged but not convicted was an infringement of a citizen's right to privacy, and that the edict for automatic payment of full restitution was non-judicious (see their paper: "Analysis of Major Civil Liberties Abuses in the Crime Bill Conference Report as Passed by the House and the Senate", dated September 29, 1994). In 2005, the ACLU had, however, enthusiastically supported reauthorization of VAWA on the condition that the "unconstitutional DNA provision" be removed. That provision would have allowed law enforcement to take DNA samples from arrestees or even from those who had simply been stopped by police without the permission of a court.
The ACLU, in its July 27, 2005 'Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, S. 1197' stated that "VAWA is one of the most effective pieces of legislation enacted to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It has dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women and has provided critical services necessary to support women in their struggle to overcome abusive situations".
Some activists opposed the bill. Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow at the conservative, evangelistic Christian Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute, called the Act a "boondoggle" which "ends up creating a climate of suspicion where all men are feared or viewed as violent and all women are viewed as victims". She described the Act in 2012 as creating a "climate of false accusations, rush to judgment and hidden agendas" and criticized it for failing to address the factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as leading to violent, abusive behavior. Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly denounced VAWA as a tool to "fill feminist coffers" and argued that the Act promoted "divorce, breakup of marriage and hatred of men".
In 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States held part of VAWA unconstitutional on federalism grounds in United States v. Morrison. That decision invalidated only the civil remedy provision of VAWA. The provisions providing program funding were unaffected.
In 2005, the reauthorization of VAWA (as HR3402) defined what population benefited under the term of "Underserved Populations" described as "Populations underserved because of geographic location, underserved racial and ethnic populations, populations underserved because of special needs (such as language barriers, disabilities, alienage status, or age) and any other population determined to be underserved by the Attorney General or by the Secretary of Health and Human Services as appropriate". The reauthorization also "Amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968" to "prohibit officials from requiring sex offense victims to submit to a polygraph examination as a condition for proceeding with an investigation or prosecution of a sex offense."
In 2011, the law expired. In 2012 the law was up for reauthorization in Congress. Different versions of the legislation were passed along party lines in the Senate and House, with the Republican-sponsored House version favoring the reduction of services to undocumented immigrants and LGBT individuals. Another area of contention was the provision of the law giving Native American tribal authorities jurisdiction over sex crimes involving non-Native Americans on tribal lands. By repealing a portion of the 1978 Oliphant v. Suquamish ruling, such a provision could alter the constitutional balance between federal, state, and tribal power. Historically Congress has not allowed tribal governments to exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-tribal members. The two bills were pending reconciliation, and a final bill did not reach the President's desk before the end of the year, temporarily ending the coverage of the Act after 18 years, as the 112th Congress adjourned.
When a bill reauthorizing the act was introduced in 2012, it was opposed by conservative Republicans, who objected to extending the Act's protections to same-sex couples and to provisions allowing battered foreigners residing in the country illegally to claim temporary visas, also known as U visas. The U visa is restricted to 10,000 applicants annually whereas the number of applicants far exceeds these 10,000 for each fiscal year. In order to be considered for the U visa, one of the requirements for immigrant women is that they need to cooperate in the detention of the abuser. Studies show that 30 to 50% of immigrant women are suffering from physical violence and 62% experience physical or psychological abuse in contrast to only 21% of citizens in the United States.
In April 2012, the Senate voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and the House subsequently passed its own measure (omitting provisions of the Senate bill that would protect gays, Native Americans living in reservations, and immigrants who are victims of domestic violence). Reconciliation of the two bills was stymied by procedural measures, leaving the re-authorization in question. The Senate's 2012 re-authorization of VAWA was not brought up for a vote in the House.
In 2013, the question of jurisdiction over offenses in Native American country continued to be at issue over the question of whether defendants who are not tribal members would be treated fairly by tribal courts or afforded constitutional guarantees.
On February 12, 2013, the Senate passed an extension of the Violence Against Women Act by a vote of 78–22. The measure went to the House of Representatives where jurisdiction of tribal courts and inclusion of same-sex couples were expected to be at issue. Possible solutions advanced were permitting either removal or appeal to federal courts by non-tribal defendants. The Senate had tacked on the Trafficking Victims Protection Act which is another bone of contention due to a clause which requires provision of reproductive health services to victims of sex trafficking.
On February 28, 2013, in a 286–138 vote, the House passed the Senate's all-inclusive version of the bill. House Republicans had previously hoped to pass their own version of the measure—one that substantially weakened the bill's protections for certain categories. The stripped-down version, which allowed only limited protection for LGBT and Native Americans, was rejected 257 to 166. The renewed act expanded federal protections to gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals, Native Americans and immigrants.
On March 7, 2013, President Barack Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.
138 House Republicans voted against the version of the act that became law. However, several, including Steve King (R-Iowa), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Tim Walberg (R-Michigan), Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri), Keith Rothfus (R-Pennsylvania), and Tim Murphy (R-Pennsylvania), claimed to have voted in favor of the act. Some have called this claim disingenuous because the group only voted in favor of a GOP proposed alternative version of the bill that did not contain provisions intended to protect gays, lesbians and transgender individuals, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants.
VAWA was reauthorized by bipartisan majorities in Congress in 2000 (H.R. 1248, Roll Call 415-3), and again in December 2005, and signed by President George W. Bush. The Act's 2012 renewal was opposed by conservative Republicans, who objected to extending the Act's protections to same-sex couples and to provisions allowing battered undocumented immigrants to claim temporary visas. Ultimately, VAWA was again reauthorized in 2013, after a long legislative battle throughout 2012–2013.
On September 12, 2013, at an event marking the 19th anniversary of the bill, Vice President Joe Biden criticized the Republicans who slowed the passage of the reauthorization of the act as being "this sort of Neanderthal crowd".
As a result of the United States federal government shutdown of 2018–2019, the Violence Against Women Act expired on December 21, 2018. It was temporarily reauthorized by a short-term spending bill on January 25, 2019, but expired again on February 15, 2019.
On April 4, 2019, the reauthorization act passed in the House by a vote of 263–158, this time including closing the boyfriend loophole. All Democrats voting joined by 33 Republicans voted for passage. New York Representative Elise Stefanik said Democrats, "...have refused to work with Republicans in a meaningful way," adding, "the House bill will do nothing but "collect dust" in the GOP-controlled Senate. The bill has indeed been ignored by the Senate."
On December 9, 2019, following the firearm murder of a Houston police officer on duty by a boyfriend who had been abusive towards his girlfriend, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo criticized Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and John Cornyn (R-TX) for preventing a vote on the VAWA reauthorization. Acevedo said "I don't want to hear about how much they care about lives and the sanctity of lives yet, we all know in law enforcement that one of the biggest reasons that the Senate and Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and others are not getting into a room and having a conference committee with the House and getting the Violence Against Women's Act (passed) is because the NRA doesn't like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends. And who killed our sergeant? A boyfriend abusing his girlfriend. So you're either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts, or you're here for the NRA."
In a follow-up interview with CNN, Acevedo said his criticism of Senators Cruz, Cornyn and McConnell was not political, because “death is not political — you see, death is final.” He challenged Senator Cruz to directly answer whether he supports closing the boyfriend loophole, and said that failing to address it would put the Senators “on the wrong side of history”. Senator Cornyn said that Acevedo was “mistaken” invoking the VAWA.
Programs and servicesEdit
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The Violence Against Women laws provided programs and services, including:
- Federal rape shield law.
- Community violence prevention programs
- Protections for victims who are evicted from their homes because of events related to domestic violence or stalking
- Funding for victim assistance services, like rape crisis centers and hotlines
- Programs to meet the needs of immigrant women and women of different races or ethnicities
- Programs and services for victims with disabilities
- Legal aid for survivors of domestic violence
When a victim is the beneficiary of an order of protection, per VAWA it was generally enforceable nationwide under the terms of full faith and credit. Although the order may be granted only in a specific state, full faith and credit requires that it be enforced in other states as though the order was granted in their states.18 U.S.C. § 2265
Persons who were covered under VAWA immigration provisionsEdit
VAWA allowed for the possibility that certain individuals who might not otherwise be eligible for immigration benefits may petition for US permanent residency on the grounds of a close relationship with a US citizen or permanent resident who has been abusing them. The following persons are eligible to benefit from the immigration provisions of VAWA:
- A wife or husband who has been abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (Green Card holder) spouse. The petition will also cover the petitioner's children under age 21.
- A child abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent. The petition can be filed by an abused child or by her parent on the child's behalf.
- A parent who has been abused by a U.S. citizen child who is at least 21 years old.
Coverage of male victimsEdit
Although the title of the Act and the titles of its sections refer to victims of domestic violence as women, the operative text is gender-neutral, providing coverage for male victims as well. Individual organizations have not been successful in using VAWA to provide equal coverage for men. The law has twice been amended in attempts to address this situation. The 2005 reauthorization added a non-exclusivity provision clarifying that the title should not be construed to prohibit male victims from receiving services under the Act. The 2013 reauthorization added a non-discrimination provision that prohibits organizations receiving funding under the Act from discriminating on the basis of sex, although the law allows an exception for "sex segregation or sex-specific programming" when it is deemed to be "necessary to the essential operations of a program." Jan Brown, the Founder and Executive Director of the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women contends that the Act may not be sufficient to ensure equal access to services.
Official federal government groups that have developed, being established by President Barack Obama, in relation to the Violence Against Women Act include the White House Council on Women and Girls and the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The ultimate aims of both groups are to help improve and/or protect the well-being and safety of women and girls in the United States.
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What should be an uncontroversial bill has been held up by Republicans over the Obama administration’s proper insistence that contractors under the act afford victims access to a full range of reproductive health services.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
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