Less than 26 years ago, violence against women, including domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking, was not perceived as crimes, and communities across the country lacked the resources or response plans needed to reduce this type of violence in their communities. The passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 by President Bill Clinton as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, was the first U.S federal legislation to acknowledge domestic violence and sexual assault as federal crimes and provide support, services, and resources for victims and communities. When enacted, this legislation was a significant turning point for the country's perception of gender-based violence. It helped bring to light gaps in our criminal justice system that allowed abusers to avoid being held accountable.
Administered by the U.S Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services, programs under the VAWA have helped significantly improved federal, tribal, and state response plans to domestic violence and sexual assault. The following measures are some of many that have helped improve the criminal justice system's response to these crimes:
- Requires all U.S state, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions to recognize a victim's protection order
- Allows federal prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes that crossed state lines
- Mandates that all rape kits and protection orders be provided free of cost to the victim
- Increased federal penalties for repeat federal sex offenders and established a "rape-shield" law that to prevent offenders from using a victim's past sexual conduct against them in federal and civil court
- Mandates restitution to victims of specified federal sex offenses including sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and abuse of children
- Provides grant funding for programs to educate law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victim advocates, and judges on the realities of gender-based violence
Every five years, the act is revised to improve existing programs and adapt to survivors' and communities' changing needs. As it currently stands, the VAWA has established and provides the following services for women who experience domestic violence or sexual assault:
- Established and funds the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which receives over 20,000 phone calls a day
- Funds sexual assault and domestic violence crisis centers across the country
- Provides legal assistance for victims, including those of dating violence and stalking
- Provides housing protections for survivors
- Established prevention programs and response plans for communities
- Expanded services in other languages to be culturally inclusive.
- For a full list of programs and services visit, Justice.gov/ovw/grant-programs
Even though the VAWA helped reduce domestic violence by over 50%, 1 in 4 women is still affected by abuse today. This October, help raise awareness and support domestic violence victims by learning the warning signs and talking about them with your loved ones. If you or someone you know needs immediate assistance, don't hesitate to call 911. For other services and support, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, chat online at TheHotline.org or via text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474.