Signed into law in 1994 as part of a larger omnibus crime bill, the Violence Against Women Act was groundbreaking federal legislation that sought to bolster the state-level response to domestic and sexual violence. Prior to enactment of VAWA, state courts and law enforcement, for instance, were finding it complicated to respond to domestic and sexual violence cases where abusers crossed state lines in order to commit violence, or while committing it. Protection orders were only valid in the state where they were issued. And domestic violence shelters, and services for victims of domestic and sexual violence were chronically underfunded.
VAWA’s approach to these problems was unique: a combination of statutes to respond to gaps in the law, e.g. creation of a new federal crime of interstate domestic violence, ensuring full faith and credit (enforcement across state lines) for civil protection orders and providing a new source of federal funding designed to encourage collaboration and coordination among key actors at the state level including law enforcement, prosecutors, service providers, courts, and technical assistance providers.
Championed by then-Senator Joe Biden, Senator Orrin Hatch, Rep. John Conyers and Rep. Connie Morella, VAWA was also significant in that its programs were designed to address the unique needs of various communities, including immigrant survivors, rural survivors, Native women and communities of color, among others. Since its creation in 1994, VAWA has been reauthorized 3 times including most recently March of 2013 when it was signed into law by President Obama.
Legal Momentum led the effort to pass the initial VAWA. When reauthorization legislation is pending in Congress, Legal Momentum works in coalition to see that each reauthorization increases rights and resources for victims and improves community support structures, such as shelters and law enforcement, which protect victims and prevent violence.
Legal Momentum led the effort to pass the federal Violence Against Women Act and continues to promote programs supporting and protecting victims of violence under the Act and at the state level. Every five years, Congress reauthorizes this vital legislation. Legal Momentum works in coalition to see that each reauthorization expands rights and increases resources for victims, and strengthens community support structures, such as shelters and law enforcement, which protect victims and prevent violence.
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
Passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was a watershed moment in the history of women’s rights legislation in America. Violence against women, in the form of domestic violence, sexual assault and abuse, and stalking was and continues to be a national epidemic. VAWA marks the first effort to deal with these problems on a federal level and provide resources for the myriad state, community and city organizations that assist victims in crisis and promote violence prevention. Legal Momentum played a critical role in drafting and advocating for its passage. Learn more about the history of VAWA.
Legal Momentum chairs the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women and continues to spearhead congressional reauthorization advocacy surrounding VAWA. During the 2005 reauthorizations, Legal Momentum led efforts to increase employment and housing protections for victims of violence, and increased protections for immigrant women. The latest renewal, signed into law on January 5, 2006, extends the legislation for five years and brings the total amount of VAWA-related funding to more than $4 billion.
2011 VAWA Reauthorization
Alongside partners in the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, Legal Momentum is working to expand rights and protections for victims of violence through the 2011 VAWA reauthorization. Specifically, Legal Momentum is working to increase access to services for immigrant victims of violence and secure greater workplace protections for survivors of violence. Such protections include provisions that bar discrimination against survivors; provisions which guarantee a survivor’s job security when she/he must take time off to deal with violence-related issues, including protection orders, safety planning, etc.; and provisions which secure access to unemployment insurance for victims forced to leave their job in the aftermath of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
VAWA and Immigrant Women
Immigrant woman who are victims of crime such as domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, and human trafficking confront significant barriers to achieving personal safety and independence. Lack of eligibility and difficulty accessing immigration relief, public safety net benefits, and legal work authorization create paralyzing situations for women who literally have no where to turn for help. Because of heightened anxiety around immigration status, many fear seeking basic law enforcement assistance. Legal Momentum's Immigrant Women Program advocated for provisions included in the 2000 and 2005 VAWA Reauthorizations that eliminated some of the major obstacles immigrant women faced in achieving safety and independence.
Celebrating the Fifteenth Anniversary of VAWA
In celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, Legal Momentum and The Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law presented a symposium at Georgetown Law Center featuring Legal Momentum's long history of advocacy for women victims of violence and its leadership in passing this landmark legislation. The Symposium included presentations by Legal Momentum current and former staff attorneys who advocated, litigated, and helped reauthorize VAWA, and Vice President Joe Biden, who championed VAWA from its inception. Legal Momentum awarded Vice President Biden the Legal Momentum Hero Award for his invaluable work.
The Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law's 2010 Symposium Issue includes an edited transcript of the speakers' remarks and articles by Legal Momentum staff and others exploring current violence against women issues and VAWA. Read more in the VAWA 'Resources & Materials' section.