On Wednesday, March 17, 2021, the House of Representatives passed HR 1620, the bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, in a vote of 244-172. This legislation protects and provides resources for victims of domestic abuse and sexual abuse. With the pandemic and economic crisis increasing the risks of abuse and the barriers to safety for women (and children), the reauthorization of VAWA is more urgent than ever.
“Given the rise in domestic violence and sexual assault cases during this Covid-19 crisis, where perpetrators are spending significant amounts of time at home with their victims, this landmark, transformative legislation is needed now more than ever,” stated Chair of the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee Sheila Jackson (D-TX).
The Violence Against Women Act is one of the pillars of the federal response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking (“the four crimes”). While the four crimes have decreased significantly since 1994, when VAWA was first passed, rates of violence are still far too high:
- One in five women and one in 59 men are raped in their lifetimes;
- One in four women and one in seven men experience severe physical abuse by an intimate partner in their lifetimes;
- One in six women and one in nineteen men experience stalking in their lifetimes;
- A woman is murdered by a male intimate partner with a gun every sixteen hours;
- The four crimes disproportionately impact women and members of underserved communities.
What the current VAWA bill would do:
- VAWA provides grants to transform law enforcement’s and the legal system’s response to the four crimes by bringing together victim service organizations, law enforcement, community-based organizations, prosecutors, judges, and other stakeholders to develop coordinated community responses;
- VAWA funds prevention through a number of grants that approach prevention from different angles;
- VAWA funds services to victims of the four crimes, including crisis intervention, domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy, shelter services, legal services and advocacy, housing for survivors, community-based interventions, and other important services;
- VAWA funds population-specific programming, including programs designed to meet the needs of communities of color, older adults, rural communities, people with disabilities, young adults, LGBTQ people, and others; and
- VAWA provides critical legal protections to all survivors.
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), co-sponsor of VAWA, stated that the legislation “has been instrumental in improving and enhancing our nation’s response to safeguarding women and children from abuse, anguish, and violence. For years, VAWA programs have produced tangible, life-saving results, saving the lives of millions of women and children and providing educational tools to help survivors and their families rebuild their lives. This is not a partisan or controversial issue, which is why I put such a special emphasis on working to build broad bipartisan support for this critical, life-saving legislation.”
The law was last reauthorized in 2013, expired in 2018 even with broad support but was never considered in the then Republican-led Senate. With President Biden, a champion for the initial bill in 1994, supporting the legislation, it is hopeful that the Democratic-controlled Senate will advance the legislation.