VAWA: What It Is. VAWA stands for the Violence Against Women Act. Which is a bit of a misnomer since the language of the act is gender neutral and it applies to all people. Originally adopted in 1994, VAWA was the first federal legislation to recognize domestic violence as a serious crime. It established the Office of Violence against Women within the Department of Justice. It provides grants and other financial assistance to scores of programs designed to prevent and reduce sexual violence in this country. It provides support for law enforcement training and services for domestic violence victims. It established the the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233. The hotline runs 24/7 and helps victims plan a safe exit and get other types of help.
VAWA’s reauthorization has been up in the air before. During the 2011-2013 time frame, Congress allowed the Act to lapse. However, funding for the programs was continued, although at low levels. This year, the Act is set to expire on September 30, 2018. So far, there has been little action to save it. You will likely be hearing about it during the midterm elections.
VAWA has faced opposition from a variety of sources in the past. Initially, the ACLU opposed the Act out of due process concerns for perpetrators. The ACLU eventually came around. Some conservatives and some religious organizations have opposed it because it includes same-sex domestic violence and some protections for immigrants. But, politics aside, VAWA has been very effective at addressing sexual violence.
The most startling statistics that should motivate everyone to support VAWA is the connection between domestic violence and mass killings. In close to half of mass shootings, the shooter also killed a family member or partner. Meaning that the shooting involved direct domestic violence at the time. Additionally, twenty percent of such shooters had a history of domestic violence.
But the reason VAWA was started was the amount of abuse that women face from people they know. According to the Department of Justice in 2007 only about 10% of female homicide victims did not know their killer. An overwhelming majority of female homicide victims are killed by a spouse, ex-spouse, or other intimate partner. The statistics are even higher for women of color. About a third of women have been victims of physical violence by an intimate partner. Most victims are under 25 years old.
Despite these statistics, VAWA created a significant improvement for women by reducing the rate of domestic violence by 63 percent. The 2007 statistics were an improvement as between 1993 and 2007 the total number of homicide victims in the U.S. fell 31% and homicide victims killed by intimate partners fell 29%. Over the past 24 years, VAWA funding has transformed how criminal justice systems in many communities respond to domestic and sexual violence, including improved law enforcement efforts, improved medical services for sexual assault victims, improved training for court personnel, and many other techniques to reduce the amount of sexual violence.
As the statistics above demonstrate, VAWA has already succeeded in reducing the rate of domestic violence in this country. But continuing VAWA is crucial. VAWA funds 25 grant programs which in turn funds many, many prevention & recovery programs designed to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking by strengthening services to victims and holding offenders accountable.
Oklahoma is fourth in the nation in the rate of women killed by men. On average, an Oklahoman dies every five days as a result of domestic violence, based on homicide numbers compiled by the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board. Local Oklahoma agencies that benefit from VAWA include DVIS, Tulsa’s Integrated Domestic Violence Court, local prosecutor’s offices, local law enforcement, battered women’s shelters, and many others. Our community will suffer a great deal if these services are not funded. We need to insist that the U.S. Congress reauthorize VAWA.
If you or someone you love has been affected by sexual violence and are interested in learning about your legal rights, contact Koller Trial Law.
Every employee of Koller Trial Law is trauma-informed and understands the need for extreme confidentiality.