Back in 1994 Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to help eliminate domestic abuse, dating violence and sexual assault direct towards women. It created federally funded programs to support batter women’s shelters, advocacy and educational groups, and programs to improve law enforcement protocols. Following the passage of VAWA, all 50 states created anti-stalking and anti-domestic violence laws to fall in line with the requirements of VAWA.
Since its creation, nationally the number of women reporting domestic abuse has gone up 51%. The number of women killed by a partner has dropped by 34% and since women now have access to support in leaving an abusive relationship the number of women killed by an abused partner has dropped by 57%. The rate of intimate partner homicide in Maryland dropped by 41% in only 4 years using VAWA funding to institute a “Lethality Assesment Program.” Clearly VAWA is working, it is demonstrably decreasing violence against women and supporting women who are already in abusive relationships.
Despite its success VAWA has to be reauthorized every few years or it expires. This year while conservatives were so busy focusing on limiting women’s access to reproductive healthcare VAWA’s renewal date passed and it expired back in September. Finally on November 30th of this year Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) announced they would be filing the VAWA Reauthorization bill for 2011. The bill includes a few additions to help build on the success VAWA already has. According to a PDF by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women the major changes are:
-Streamlining programs and increasing accountability;
-Supporting coordinated, community-based responses and direct services for victims;
-Enhancing criminal justice responses to the crime of sexual assault;
-Strengthening housing protections for victims;
-Providing services and prevention programs for young people including those on college campuses;
-Giving law enforcement tools to hold offenders accountable in cases where the victim is from another country; and
– Improving the response to violence against Indian women and other underserved communities
The bill unfortunately cuts 19% of its 2005 funding budget, about $144 million. This cut could have major consequence for programs that are already suffering from limited budgets stretched to accommodated rising rates of domestic violence. As reported by RH Reality Check “the National Domestic Violence Hotline, set up by VAWA, reported that calls to the hotline increased by over 19 percent in the 12 months after the September 2008 market crash.”
Regardless of the funding cuts, I’m grateful VAWA has finally been introduced for reauthorization, especially with the programs in place. Until the problem has been fully eradicated, VAWA has an integral role by allowing the federal government to assist victims of domestic violence.