The Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000, 2005. As we await the introduction of VAWA this year, it is important to remind ourselves of the gains women have made through this historic legislation and to identify those areas that still require our full support.
Every iteration of VAWA has been a bipartisan effort. When VAWA was first introduced, legislators relied upon input from health and criminal justice professionals, educators, counselors, and women’s advocacy organizations. As a member of the VAWA Taskforce, Feminists for Life actively participated in discussions that framed the bill language and acted as a key partner in lobbying members of Congress in support of VAWA. FFL helped legislators connect the dots between violence against women and the violence of abortion. The original VAWA bill was a landmark piece of legislation, comprehensive in addressing all types of violence against women: stalking, domestic or intimate partner violence, rape, and incest.
The first VAWA bill aimed to create a coordinated community response to acts of violence. The bill funded law enforcement as well as social and educational programs meant to prevent crime and serve crime survivors. The largest program funded by VAWA was Services-Training-Officers-Prosecutors (STOP) grants. This program helps state governments and other local government entities strengthen law enforcement, support prosecutors, and aid victims’ services. The grants were used to provide personnel and cover the costs associated with training, data collection, or equipment used to apprehend, prosecute, and adjudicate those who committed crimes against women.
Apart from funding important programs, VAWA created a federal “shield law” for victims of rape. This law prevents the victim’s sexual history from being included in the proceedings during a federal rape trial. VAWA also established the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE), which received its first call on February 21, 1996, and its two millionth a little over a decade later on September 30, 2007. The first VAWA law also established “full faith and credit” provisions that would require states to enforce protection orders issued by other states, tribes, and territories so that offenders could not elude the law by crossing state lines.
In 2000, VAWA was reauthorized with several new and important components. VAWA II expanded the acceptable use of STOP grants to include training for sexual assault forensic medical examiners. The bill funded established programs while adding initiatives to assist victims of dating violence, grants for transitional housing for victims of violence, and a pilot program aimed at protecting children who were visiting with a parent accused of domestic violence. VAWA II also made special rules for immigrant women who were victims of violence — allowing them to remain in the U.S. with their children and ensuring full prosecution of and protection from their abusers. In addition, VAWA II made grants available for services related to elderly and disabled victims of violence and expanded interstate stalking laws to include the emerging threat of cyberstalking.
VAWA was reauthorized again in 2005 with an emphasis on local collaboration among law enforcement, health and housing professionals, and women’s alliances. VAWA III created new programs to focus on young victims of violence and to educate the public and employers about the threat of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. VAWA III also made gains in protecting victims’ privacy and providing housing assistance for victims. VAWA III included funding for research on intervention strategies that would prevent acts of violence and curtail the devastating effects of violence on women and children.
As Feminists for Life continues its work in the VAWA Taskforce, eagerly anticipating the next incarnation of the Violence Against Women Act, it’s more important than ever that lawmakers and the White House hear pro-life feminist voices. Historically, VAWA has shared FFL’s holistic approach to addressing the root causes of violence. FFL members and supporters are encouraged to take this opportunity to share their opinions with their legislators and encourage their leaders to remember the women.
You may contact your members of Congress by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Or you may consult www.house.gov and www.senate.gov, the congressional websites, for office phone and fax numbers, as well as e-mail addresses.