The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first passed in 1994. It was the first of its kind and all thanks to the hard work of women’s groups who lobbied endlessly to force the government and nation to recognize the violence women face.
For service providers, the bill ensured funding that focused on prevention. This included educational services through non-profits to teach about healthy relationships, consent, and domestic violence. In addition, it ensured funding for women survivors of violence. For example, funding was provided to shelters and networks designed to assist women running from violence and to help them get back on their feet. This was groundbreaking because prior funding was unstable and too often never came through. Secured funding ensured a continuity of services. The Act also provided additional training to service providers, health professionals, members of the judicial system, and law enforcement professionals. The Coordinated Community Response required by the Act brings community organizers, police, correctional officers, faith leaders, health care providers, and survivors all to the table to discuss solutions.
For women survivors of violence, this has meant that more resources have been made available. In addition, the Act made domestic violence a federally recognized crime. States were now mandated to honor any order or protection regardless of the state it was issued in. The law also recognized digital forms of stalking as illegal. The Act provided funding for the forensic testing used in sexual assault cases. Previously, survivors were charged the cost of this. Finally, the Act also ensured that women who were fleeing state lines or tribal territories could file custody orders without putting themselves back in danger.
Immigrant survivors are very vulnerable to abuse, especially if undocumented. This problem is exacerbated if one’s immigration status in the country depends on an abusive partner. Immigrant women are less likely to report violence out of fear of deportation. As such, immigrant women often keep a distance from the police and resources designed to help survivors of abuse. VAWA includes the option for immigrant women to self-petition for immigration, thus separating their immigration status from that of their partner’s. In addition, the cancellation of removal clause of the Act allows survivors of domestic violence to not be deported if abused by lawful U.S. citizens. The Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act of 2000 provided alternative visas for survivors of violence and trafficking. It is important to note that many have argued that immigrant women do not have full access to these provisions. In addition, they often face a language barrier in accessing resources.
A reauthorization of VAWA in 2013 included Title IX Safety for Indian Women. Native American women experience incredibly high rates of violence which has been attributed to the failure to prosecute abusers. Title IX of VAWA is aimed at targeting non-Indian domestic violence and dating violence perpetrated against tribal members. This guarantees tribes the jurisdiction over violent crimes in Indian country even if perpetrated by a non-Indian. The title had significant limitations, as it did not cover rape, trafficking, or child abuse. Recent reauthorizations are working to battle these limitations. Recent Acts include the mandate to gather more accurate data on missing and murdered indigenous women. In addition, offenders who fail to comply with tribal judicial decisions face federal penalties. Importantly, these recent changes still leave out tribal members in Alaska and Maine. This accounts for nearly 40% of Native peoples who are not provided protection by VAWA.
LGBT individuals were also included in the 2013 reauthorization of VAWA. Any program receiving funding through VAWA in mandated to provide services to any person seeking them out regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, it provided additional funding to create programs designed to help minority populations who have limited access to existing resources designed to address domestic violence.