On October 5, 2021, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, the witness for the hearing. Prior to questioning, Chairman Durbin emphasized the importance of the reauthorization of the law as the pandemic has created an increase in domestic violence in homes from heightened stress levels and isolation. In 2020, there was a 16% increase in domestic violence-related calls and the reauthorization of VAWA is a sign of hope for these numbers to decrease.
VAWA was first passed in 1994 to provide resources for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. Over the past 25 years, VAWA has been reauthorized three times, adding new provisions expanding help to vulnerable populations. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS) administer these programs on federal, tribal, state, and local levels. Some examples of programs are rape prevention and education programs, domestic violence prevention, and certain prohibitions on the use of firearms for spousal abusers. Research shows that domestic violence programs that support survivors can increase feelings of self-worth, self-image, and security.
The reauthorization of VAWA asks for a $1 billion dollar expansion to widen the scope of these programs. Areas of focus for the reauthorization bill include increased outreach to rural communities, correction of the “boyfriend loophole” that allows some to avoid the firearm prohibitions, expanded jurisdiction to tribal communities, and strengthening domestic violence training for police officers.
Following opening statements, Deputy Attorney General Monaco was questioned regarding the Administration’s position on VAWA reauthorization. The questioning began with Senator Durbin asking about children of spouses who are abused, and how to deal with the trauma that will eventually stockpile. Monaco discussed how VAWA attempts to support and provide services to children who are exposed to violence in the home. Next, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) noted that 600 women are killed with a gun by a partner every year and emphasized that the current bill only bars spousal abusers from obtaining a firearm, this is referred to as the “boyfriend loophole.” The Deputy Attorney General said the proposed reauthorization of VAWA must include protection for dating partners.
During the hearing some questioning veered off topic. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) questioned the mishandling of the FBI investigation on Larry Nassar. Both Senators challenged Monaco about the timeline and role of FBI agents in that investigation. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) grilled the Deputy A.G. over the FBI presence at school board meetings that discuss mask-wearing and the teaching of Critical Race Theory.
During closing statements, Chairman Durbin emphasizes the prevalence of domestic violence. He remarked that on average, 20 people per minute are abused by an intimate partner in the United States. He reiterated how important it is that VAWA be reauthorized as quickly as possible. As a senator President Biden was instrumental in the creation of VAWA as part of the 1994 crime bill.