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Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is currently up for reauthorization. VAWA was originally enacted in 1994 and provides essential funding for domestic and sexual violence services in every state in the nation. It has been re-authorized since then with broad bi-partisan support. Its initial goals were to increase victim services and to improve criminal justice responses.  Some of the major areas that VAWA addressed include:

  • Full faith and credit for protection orders across jurisdictional boundaries
  • Federal crimes for interstate domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking
  • Funding for services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking
  • Funding and training for criminal justice partners (police, prosecutors, courts)

Some portions of VAWA expired at the end of 2011, and funding and programs are on hold until the act is re-authorized by Congress. There are currently two versions of VAWA re-authorizations pending in Congress:

  • The House version of the bill, H. 4970, would have a negative impact on survivors and programs by rolling back current protections and funding.
  • The Senate version of the bill, S. 1925, is the version supported by national victim advocacy organizations. This version of the bill would build on past successes by strengthening current protections and recognizing and addressing unmet needs.

Summary of Differences Between the Two Versions:

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered Victims: The Senate version explicitly addresses nondiscrimination and access to services for LGBT victims. The House version does not.

Immigrant victims:  VAWA includes several remedies for immigrant victims who face additional barriers such as limits on their ability to work and dependence on the abusive partner to complete their petition for residency.  One remedy, the U-Visa, allows crime victims who are cooperating with a criminal case to seek a special visa. This has been a valuable tool for victims and criminal justice agencies, and the number of U-visas reached the cap in September 2011. The Senate version would expand this number of U-Visas temporarily. The House version limits the number of U-visas and imposes additional barriers in other immigration remedies available to victims.

Tribal authority:  Currently, tribal governments do not have the authority to prosecute non-tribal members for crimes committed on their land. Instead, victims of these crimes are currently dependent on federal prosecution.  The Senate version would grant this authority to tribal governments to prosecute crimes of domestic violence, dating violence and violation of protection orders even if the offender is not a tribal member, but lives or works on tribal lands or is the intimate partner of a tribal member. The House version does not grant this authority.

Culturally Specific Services:  African American and Native American women face higher rates of intimate partner violence along with other disparities such as poverty and racism, and other culturally specific communities face unique barriers such as immigration status or language barriers. The Senate version includes funding and other improvements to address culturally specific needs; the House version does not.

Sexual assault: The House version would impose mandatory 10-year minimum sentences for sexual assault convictions. This is opposed by advocates who are concerned that harsh mandatory minimum sentences will deter victims from reporting, particularly because the majority of victims are sexually assaulted by intimate partners or acquaintances.  The Senate version contains additional provisions to address sexual assault such as a 20% funding set aside for sexual assault services and provisions to ensure that sexual assault victims will not have to cover the costs of their own rape exams.

Housing: The current Violence Against Women Act requires public housing authorities to allow victims to transfer if it is unsafe for them to remain in their current housing. The Senate version continues this mandate and extends the protection to sexual assault victims, while the House version makes it optional.

Audits: The House version of the bill creates excessive and burdensome new auditing requirements that would divert precious grant dollars from direct services. The Senate version does not.

For more detailed information on any of these issues, go to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence toolkit at: http://4vawa.org/pages/vawa-fact-sheets

Permanent link to this article: http://alliancetoendviolenceagainstwomen.org/violence-against-women-act-vawa-reauthorization/