|Long title||An Act to Control and Prevent Crime|
|Enacted by||the 103rd United States Congress|
|Public law||Pub.L. 103–322|
|Statutes at Large||108 Stat. 1796|
|Titles amended||42 U.S.C.|
|U.S.C. sections created||42 U.S.C. ch. 136 (expired on February 15, 2019)|
|United States Supreme Court cases|
|United States v. Morrison|
The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) was a United States federal law (Title IV of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, H.R. 3355) signed by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994. 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 when prosecutors chose to not prosecute cases. The Act also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.
The bill was sponsored by Senator and future Vice President and President of the United States Joe Biden (D-DE). in 1994 and gained support from a broad coalition of advocacy groups. The Act passed through both houses of the Congress with bipartisan support in 1994, 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 additional 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 been subjected to such abuse. The Independent Women's Forum has urged Congress to include provisions enhancing penalties for female genital mutilation as well as funding to combat FGM. beyond those already set down in law, as it is already illegal. The House version also does not include additional measures to deter honor killings, sex trafficking, or forced child marriages, all of which are also already illegal.
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:
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.
A total of 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 as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (H.R. 3244), 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 were 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" in invoking the VAWA.
On March 17, 2021, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 passed the House. As of March 22, 2021, VAWA has been referred to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
The Violence Against Women laws provided programs and services, including:
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
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:
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.
If a Native American is raped or assaulted by a non-Indian, she must plead for justice to already overburdened United States attorneys who are often hundreds of miles away.
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)