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The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a United States federal law (Title IV, sec. 40001-40703 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, H.R. 3355) signed as Pub.L. 103–322 by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994. The Act provides $1.6 billion toward investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposes automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allows civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted. The Act also establishes the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice. Male victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking are also covered.
VAWA was drafted by the office of Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), with support from a broad coalition of advocacy groups. The Act passed through Congress with bipartisan support in 1994, clearing the House by a vote of 235–195 and the Senate by a vote of 61–38, although the following year House Republicans attempted to cut the Act's funding. In the 2000 Supreme Court case United States v. Morrison, a sharply divided Court struck down the VAWA provision allowing women the right to sue their attackers in federal court. By a 5–4 majority, the Court's conservative wing overturned the provision as an intrusion on states' rights.
VAWA was reauthorized by Congress in 2000, and again in December 2005. The Act's 2012 renewal was opposed by conservative Republicans, who objected to extending the Act's protections to same-sex couples and to provisions allowing battered undocumented immigrants to claim temporary visas. In April 2012, the Senate voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and the House subsequently passed its own measure (omitting provisions of the Senate bill that would protect gay men, lesbians, American Indians living in reservations, and undocumented people who were victims of domestic violence). Reconciliation of the two bills has been stymied by procedural measures, leaving the reauthorization in question.
On January 2, 2013, the Senate's 2012 reauthorization of VAWA was not brought up for a vote in the House. While the bill was not reauthorized, its provisions (as enacted in the 2005 reauthorization) remain in effect. .
On February 12, 2013, The Senate passed an extension of the Violence Against Women Act by a vote of 78-22. The measure will now go to the House of Representatives.
The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993, and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the same year, concluded that civil society and governments have acknowledged that domestic violence is a public health policy and human rights concern.
The Violence Against Women Act was developed and passed as a result of extensive grassroots efforts in the late 80's and early 1990s, with advocates and professionals from the battered women's movement, sexual assault advocates, victim services field, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors' offices, the courts, and the private bar urging Congress to adopt significant legislation to address domestic and sexual violence. Since its original passage in 1994, VAWA's focus has expanded from domestic violence and sexual assault to also include dating violence and stalking. It funds services to protect adult and teen victims of these crimes, and supports training on these issues, to ensure consistent responses across the country. One of the greatest successes of VAWA is its emphasis on a coordinated community response to domestic violence, sex dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; courts, law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services, and the private bar currently work together in a coordinated effort that had not heretofore existed on the state and local levels. VAWA also supports the work of community-based organizations that are engaged in work to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, particularly those groups that provide culturally and linguistically specific services. Additionally, VAWA provides specific support for work with tribes and tribal organizations to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking against Indian women.
Many grant programs authorized in VAWA have been funded by the U.S. Congress. The following grant programs, which are administered primarily through the Office on Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice have received appropriations from Congress:
The American Civil Liberties Union had originally expressed concerns about the Act, saying that the increased penalties were rash, the increased pretrial detention was "repugnant" to the US Constitution, the mandatory HIV testing of those only charged but not convicted is an infringement of a citizen’s right to privacy and the edict for automatic payment of full restitution was non-judicious (see their paper: "Analysis of Major Civil Liberties Abuses in the Crime Bill Conference Report as Passed by the House and the Senate", dated September 29, 1994). However, the ACLU has supported reauthorization of VAWA on the condition that the "unconstitutional DNA provision" be removed.
The ACLU, in their July 27, 2005 'Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, S. 1197' stated that "VAWA is one of the most effective pieces of legislation enacted to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It has dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women and has provided critical services necessary to support women in their struggle to overcome abusive situations."
Some activists oppose the bill. A spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America called the Act a "boondoggle" which "creates an ideology that all men are guilty and all women are victims." Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly denounced VAWA as a tool to "fill feminist coffers" and argued that the Act promoted "divorce, breakup of marriage and hatred of men."
In 2000 the Supreme Court of the United States held part of VAWA unconstitutional in United States v. Morrison on federalism grounds. Only the civil rights remedy of VAWA was struck down. The provisions providing program funding were unaffected.
In 2012 the law was up for reauthorization in Congress. Different versions of the legislation have been passed along party lines in the Senate and House, with the Republican-sponsored House version favoring the reduction of services to undocumented immigrants and LGBT individuals. Another area of contention is giving Native American tribal authorities jurisdiction over sex crimes involving non-native Americans on tribal lands. This is considered to have constitutional implications as non-tribes people are under the jurisdiction of the United States federal government and granted the protections of the US Constitution, protections that tribal courts do not often have. The two bills were pending reconciliation, and a final bill did not reach the President's desk before the end of the year, ending the Act after 18 years as the 112th Congress ended and 113th started. In 2013 the question of jurisdiction over offenses in Indian country continued to be at issue over the question of whether defendants who are not tribal members would be treated fairly by tribal courts or afforded constitutional guarantees.
On February 11, 2013, The Senate passed an extension of the Violence Against Women Act by a vote of 78-22. The measure will now go to the House of Representatives.
The Violence Against Women laws provide programs and services, including: