Violence against Women Act Essay

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The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was the first comprehensive federal legislation to address violence against women in the United States. First passed in 1994, VAWA as it came to be called was reauthorized in 2000 and most recently in 2005 with new additions and revisions.

The first drafts of VAWA were actually introduced in 1990, but many advocates believe that it was the trial of O. J. Simpson, the former football star and television announcer who was accused of killing his wife and a friend, that brought new attention to the issue in 1993 and 1994. With the help of a strong advocacy community, and congressional leaders such as Representative Pat Schroeder (D-CO) and Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), VAWA was finally passed and signed into law in August of 1994 as a part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (PL-103–322).

Because VAWA was included as part of a crime bill, most of its provisions focused on the criminal justice response to violence against women. Specifically, it included the following:

  • new penalties for gender-related violence;
  • new grant programs encouraging states to address domestic violence and sexual assault including law enforcement and prosecution grants (STOP grants), grants to encourage arrest, rural domestic violence and child abuse enforcement grants, creation of a national domestic violence hotline, and grants to battered women’s shelters; and
  • Full Faith and Credit provisions allowing for protection orders from one state to be recognized in another state.

These programs were administered by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, and though no one felt this act completely addressed the needs of victims of domestic violence, almost all involved believed it was a vital first step in the nation’s efforts to treat domestic violence as a serious problem.

Civil Rights Remedy

VAWA also included a particularly controversial section that would have permitted victims of gender motivated violence to sue their perpetrator in federal court for monetary damages. This provision was later struck down in 2000 by the Supreme Court in a 5–4 decision. In the case, United States v. Morrison, the court ruled that such violence does not significantly affect interstate commerce and that “the Fourteenth Amendment is directed at state actions, not those of private citizens.” No other sections of the bill have been challenged in the Supreme Court.

Violence Against Women Act Of 2000

Because the authorization for the original VAWA provisions expired in 2000, Congress took up the reauthorization of this landmark legislation in 1998 and completed its efforts in the fall of 2000 with the passage of the VAWA of 2000. The House of Representatives version of the bill, known as H.R. 1248, passed on September 26 by a vote of 415–3. During the course of final negotiations, VAWA 2000 was merged with another bill protecting victims of human trafficking and with several smaller bills and then passed the Senate on October 11 by a vote of 95–0. President William J. Clinton signed the legislation, finally known as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, into law on October 28, 2000 (P.L.106-386).

The final version of VAWA reauthorization included mainly a continuation of already existing programs with a few improvements, additions, and funding increases. The total authorization grew to $3.3 billion over 5 years, and the key programs included those listed as follows.

STOP Grants (Services and Training for Officers and Prosecutors). This program received the largest portion of the funding in the legislation and goes to states to be distributed among police, prosecutors, courts, and state and local victims’ services agencies to enhance law enforcement activities.

Shelter Services for Battered Women and Their Children. This program received the second largest portion of funding from the bill and funds programs to help communities provide services for women and children living in shelters.

The legislation also created new programs and strengthened existing legislation in the following areas:

 Civil Legal Assistance. This section created a separate grant program for civil legal services to give women legal help with protection orders, family court matters, housing, immigration, and administrative matters.

Transitional Housing. This program provided grants to aid individuals who are “homeless, in need of transitional housing or other housing assistance, as a result of fleeing a situation of domestic violence and for whom emergency shelter services are unavailable or insufficient.” This program was not funded.

Supervised Visitation Centers. This program was a 2-year pilot project to provide grants to state and local law enforcement to provide supervised visitation exchange for the children of victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault.

Battered Immigrant Women. Legislation addressing the needs of battered immigrant women was probably the most significant addition to the original VAWA. This section removed the U.S. residency requirement and extreme hardship requirements for immigrant women to receive VAWA protections, allowed battered immigrant women to obtain lawful permanent residence without leaving the country, restored access to VAWA protections for immigrants regardless of how they entered the country, and created a new type of visa for victims of serious crimes that allows some to attain lawful permanent residence. Although many of these provisions were included in the original VAWA, immigration legislation in 1996 stripped many of them away, creating the need to add them to VAWA 2000.

Dating Violence. The definition of dating violence was changed to allow grants to go to programs that addressed intimate partner violence between people who were dating, but not necessarily married.

Services for Disabled and Older Women. To provide grants for training law enforcement and developing policies to address the needs of older and disabled victims of domestic and sexual violence, $25 million was authorized over 5 years.

Violence Against Women Act Of 2005

VAWA was most recently reauthorized in 2005, and while continuing existing programs, it also expanded in four critical areas: sexual assault, children and youth, health, and prevention. In addition, a new emphasis was placed within all of the programs on addressing the needs of communities of color and Native women living on and off tribal lands. Mainly grant programs, these new provisions were created to address areas of need beyond immediate crisis and criminal justice responses. The new VAWA was able to expand and reach out to populations that were not currently being served and to reach younger victims, both those witnessing and experiencing violence. The new VAWA also saw increases in authorized spending, reaching close to $1 billion a year, though actual spending has yet to come close to allowable amounts. The new provisions in VAWA 2005 included the following:

Services for Youth Who Are Experiencing Dating Violence. Most existing programs had served only adult victims. VAWA 2005 made it possible to provide services to youth and expanded those who were eligible to receive grants to include youth-serving organizations.

Prevention Programs. New programs focused on stopping violence before it starts also were included. Specifically, programs working with children exposed to domestic violence, new moms and young families at risk for violence, and boys and men addressed some of the newer thinking on how to reach those most at risk for becoming both victims and perpetrators of violence.

Health Care. Reaching out to health care providers became a new priority in VAWA. Based of research demonstrating the overwhelming health effects of violence and abuse, health and behavioral health professionals became a new target audience for training.

Sexual Assault Services. VAWA in 2005 also created for the first time a direct federal funding source for rape crisis centers throughout the nation. Previously, only rape prevention and education programs had been funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The unanimous passage of VAWA in the winter of 2005 and the noncontroversial signing of it by President George W. Bush marked a major milestone in the movement to end violence against women. What had once been controversial was now mainstream. The VAWA served and continues to serve as a major marker in the social movement to end violence against women and girls.


Laney, G. P. (2005, March). Violence Against Women Act: History, federal funding, and reauthorizing legislation (CRS Reports No. RL30871). Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.

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