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Reauthroizing the Violence Against Women Act Prompted

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Issue 28, Summer 2005

Reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act Prompted
by Sheena Kapoor, MPLP Summer Law Clerk

Violence against women occurs frequently in the United States. Nearly 1 in 4 women report being abused in their lifetime. Those aged 16-24 are at the greatest risk of facing abuse. Further, between 3.3 and 10 million children are exposed to violence by either being abused, or witnessing abuse in their families. This often has devastating, long term effects. Many organizations strive to end violence against women, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which has played a major role in supporting the passage of the Violence Against Women Act.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was enacted in 1994. This Act has helped to significantly reduce incidents of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. VAWA was reauthorized in 2000, and improvements were made to the Act, expanding services to the elderly, those in rural communities, and the disabled. In the past six years, VAWA has saved $14 billion dollars by reducing social costs directly, and indirectly related to violence against women. In recent years, increasing numbers of women and children have relied on VAWA, and funding from the program has provided them with safer housing and workplaces, and efficient access to public benefits, and legal assistance. VAWA has also increased awareness of domestic violations, and States are responding to this legislation, with nearly 660 new laws being passed to combat violence against women, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline has been experiencing record highs of calls at 16,000 a month, as people are more willing to seek help for their abusive situations.

VAWA 1994 brought together private nonprofit organizations, social services, and the criminal justice system, in a coordinated community response to domestic violence. It was the first major federal legislation established in response to violence against women, and it was signed into law as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Recognition was provided to those organizations and shelters that assisted abuse victims. Interstate domestic violence and sexual assault crimes were federally prosecuted, and there was a guarantee of interstate enforcement of these orders. Also, new Grant Programs were created for the States, to help assist in efforts to end domestic violence. Community programs were established to assist victims, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline was created. Further, new protections were created for immigrant victims, and Native victims, populations that have been historically underserved.

VAWA 1994 expired in 2000, and VAWA 2000 was created by merging with the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. With a total authorization of $3.3 billion over 5 years, VAWA 2000 was quite successful in strengthening current legislation, and creating new programs to improve the lives of abuse victims. The Act established the Civil Legal Assistance program, which provides civil legal services to women. Transitional Housing was created to provide housing for homeless victims, and it allowed for protection orders to be recognized in multiple states. Supervised Visitation Centers, used for supervised exchanges and parenting time, were also established. Also, more emphasis was placed on battered immigrants, and improving programs that assist dating violence victims, the disabled, and the elderly.

VAWA 2000 will expire in September of 2005. If Congress does not reauthorize the Act, then the 10 years of improvements incombating violence against women will be halted. This Act has helped improve conditions for women suffering from abuse. Thus, support from members of Congress is essential to reauthorize the Act.

Not only is the reauthorization of VAWA desired, but supporters are prompting Congress to adopt improvements to the Act. The proposed Act, VAWA 2005, was introduced in the House of Representatives in June 2005. Several changes have been suggested, and such changes will be targeted at helping groups such as Native women, battered immigrants, ethnic minorities, and rural residents. Some of the proposed changes include assisting immigrant victims, improving response to the criminal and civil justice system, assisting youth that are witnesses of violence, and other assistance that will help reduce violence. For instance, it is estimated that nearly one third of all Native women will be raped during their lives, showing a strong need for the improvements to Native American assistance that VAWA 2005 will provide. As well, VAWA 2005 will be focused on prevention, by responding to children that have witnessed or experienced domestic violence at a young age. Further, domestic violence increases homelessness, and, thus, VAWA 2005 will include an expand transitional housing system, and other housing benefits. Additionally, VAWA 2005 will provide victims with leave from work, to assist women of violence in gaining economic independence. VAWA 2005 will include a plan to provide training for health care providers to better treat victims, since victims of violence often suffer severe health problems. VAWA provides funding for services that reduce sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. VAWA 2005 includes improvements to the existing Act, based on areas that were not fully addressed in the past.

Domestic violence is a serious social issue that frequently affects women in America. VAWA 1994 and VAWA 2000 have been successful in reducing abuse against women and enhancing safety for women and their children. For continuation of this trend, VAWA 2005 needs to be reauthorized, once VAWA 2000 expires in September 2005.