A recent report from the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) demonstrates the extraordinary benefits of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Legal Momentum led the initial effort to draft, and pass, VAWA, and continues to work toward reauthorizing this important legislation every five years. The next reauthorization is due this year.
The report, 2010 Biennial Report to Congress on the Effectiveness of Grant Programs Under the Violence Against Women Act, draws on VAWA grantee data from 2007 to 2009, analyzed by the Muskie School of Public Service. The report is available at www.ovw.usdoj.gov/docs/2010-biennial-report-to-congress.pdf.
The magnitude of VAWA’s impact is captured in the following excerpt from the Report:
OVW grantees reported serving an average of 117,436 victims/survivors during each six-month reporting period between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2009. [T]his represents more than 97 percent of all victims/survivors who requested services, includes only those to whom the sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and/or stalking was directed and who received direct services. It does not include children, dependents, and other family members.
The OVW report documents many benefits from promoting cooperation among various branches of the justice system. For example, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services reported on the experience of a local sexual assault responses team, or SART:
The effects of the collaborative efforts are already evident. Law enforcement officers in one county previously refused to work with the rape crisis center advocates. Since the SART Coordinator has been working to build trusting relationships and initiate a coordinated community response, now, not only do officers contact an advocate when a victim is at the hospital, but they also allow the advocate to be with the victim during the interview.
VAWA funding has provided training for a wide variety of professionals and agencies, helping to ensure that victims of violence have access to a knowledgeable advocacy network, medical professionals, and a well-informed and responsive justice system The OVW report quotes a VAWA grantee in New Orleans who wrote that with VAWA funding a local clinic and the Family Justice Center was able to offer domestic violence training to a newly elected district attorney (DA) and his assistants with outstanding results for victims:
For eight hours on a Saturday, the elected DA and almost all of his 70 assistants listened to a national expert on the prosecution of domestic violence. As a result, for the first time, clinic clients have obtained criminal justice enforcement of their protective orders, and assistant DAs regularly contact the clinic director for technical assistance. In one recent case, the DA’s office prosecuted a marital rape of a clinic client.
Unfortunately, as Legal Momentum’s National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) explains in its web course/resource on intimate partner sexual abuse, few DAs prosecute marital rape cases. The fact that this DA did so speaks highly of the impact of the VAWA-funded training.
NJEP has also highlighted the challenges facing elder victims of sexual abuse. As America's population ages, elder abuse has become a serious problem. The 2010 Biennial Report notes that a quarter of Americans over the age of 65 have been victims of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. To address this problem, OVW created the Abuse Later in Life Program in 2002. VAWA funds administered under this Program have made a significant difference, as a VAWA grantee in North Carolina reported:
The effectiveness of our Elder Abuse training program is most evident in the dramatic increase in calls for services regarding elder abuse since the inception of our training. Law enforcement has reported an increased awareness of signs of elder abuse and what to be aware of during a response to a call. The need for such training has been critical in recognizing problems with the elderly and in assisting officers in being cognizant of the many options available when abuse and exploitation present themselves.
Legal Momentum's research has documented that female recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the federal anti-poverty welfare program, are often victims of domestic violence, and are often unable to access the help they need to enable them to leave their abusive partner. The 2010 Biennial Report demonstrates that VAWA funding is helping to change that, as a VAWA grantee who works with TANF recipients and case managers explained:
Our program advocates have provided the TANF program case managers with referrals, referral letters, and…information regarding domestic violence clientele who are TANF recipients as well…Our program is also in the process of creating a Domestic Violence Response Protocol for TANF staff to address victims of domestic violence, sexual assaults, and stalking and harassing, and dating violence incidences when a victim reports the incident directly to them. Our program has . . . hosted presentations for TANF clients at their mandatory monthly eligibility report status meetings. This not only informs the TANF clients but also provides and equips the TANF staff with the knowledge and understanding of domestic violence, sexual assaults, stalking and harassing, and dating violence as well.
In its 2000 and 2005 reauthorizations, VAWA provided improved protections and services for immigrant victims of violence. With the help of Legal Momentum's Immigrant Women Program, VAWA has improved its efforts to help noncitizens victims and their children apply for lawful immigration status without involving their abusers in the process. The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center noted the indispensible services VAWA has funded for immigrant victims in South Florida:
First and foremost…funding has enabled the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center to try to help meet the immigration legal needs of immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in South Florida…funding allows bilingual and trilingual attorneys and paralegals, victim advocates, and trauma therapists to work together to unlock the difficult stories of abuse to help immigrant victims obtain relief, and move on with their lives. Partners recognize that to create lasting change in a victim's outlook in life, they must have access to this type of collaborative network to both meet victims' basic needs and obtain legal status.
VAWA funds have also provided training in colleges and universities. A university-based violence prevention program in California described its presentations on dating and domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to graduate-level students in marriage and family therapy, professionals-in-training who will soon be on the front lines of helping women victims of violence. The program also wrote:
[T]he VPP [Violence Prevention Program] launched the "I love consensual sex” campaign, which promoted healthy communication between partners regarding sex, guidelines for consent, and how to help a sexual assault survivor. The campaign…featured programs such as…our first Take Back the Night which approximately 125 students attended. As a result of Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming and continued collaboration with faculty members, the VPP saw an increase in the number of individuals seeking out emergency support services.
The United States is not free from violence against women, but the 2010 Biennial Report clearly demonstrates the progress we’ve made since the original Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994. VAWA funds have made a difference, and Legal Momentum will continue its advocacy to reauthorize this important legislation.