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Reflecting on the Violence Against Women Act on its 22nd Anniversary

September 13, 2016

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was passed in 1994 under then-Senator Joe Biden, to address and improve our nation’s response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking and ensure that survivors and their families have access to resources. VAWA is the first federal law to define domestic violence and sexual assault as federal crimes and provide funds to encourage community collaboration to combat violence.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) is proud to be so closely linked to VAWA’s beginnings. In 1990, a group of domestic violence state coalitions called the Domestic Violence Coalition on Public Policy pushed for federal legislation to address domestic violence. After the law was passed, this group became NNEDV. We continue to play a major role in the reauthorizations and implementation of VAWA, and urge Congress to fully fund programs that address domestic and sexual violence.

VAWA is ever-evolving to meet emerging needs, and has been expanded and reauthorized three times: in 2000, 2005, and 2013. Some of these expansions include incorporating dating violence and stalking, providing funding for rape crisis centers, offering legal assistance, strengthening protections for immigrant and Native American survivors, enhancing services for those with disabilities, and extending protection and services to LGBTQ survivors.

Since VAWA’s enactment, our nation’s response to domestic violence has been significantly improved. There has been an increase in domestic violence reports made, and survivors continue to reach out for services and support through local, state, and national hotlines, which receive over 21,000 calls on a single day. Additionally, the rate of non-fatal domestic violence has decreased by nearly 67%, and the rate of fatal violence by an intimate partner has decreased by 34% for women and 57% for men. Many judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement are now trained and informed about domestic and sexual violence in order to better support survivors and hold offenders accountable. All states have passed laws to better address domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Furthermore, VAWA saved taxpayers at least $12.6 billion in net averted social costs in the first 6 years alone.

We are rightfully impatient when it comes to ending violence against women. Domestic violence is a pervasive, life-threatening crime affecting millions of individuals regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, or education. Violence against women has grave and long term consequences, not just for victims, but for their families and communities. The right to live free from violence has been widely recognized and VAWA has provided justice, safety, and hope for many victims who have suffered in the margins. Almost a quarter of a century of federal response to violence against women has had a tremendous impact and we turn to the future with urgency and hope.

VAWA has helped our nation take these crimes seriously and to help survivors connect to lifesaving options. On its 22nd Anniversary, we reflect on VAWA’s successes, identify the existing and persistent gaps, and boldly plan for a future that will be free from gender-based violence. Advocates need tools to help them respond to holistically meet the needs of survivors. Survivors need economic justice initiatives – including adequate, affordable housing options and protection from discrimination– to match improvements in criminal and civil justice. Our nation needs more resources to prevent violence before it begins and encourage education for prevention. In order to fulfill the promise of VAWA, we need critical full-funding for current and future programs.

While VAWA remains the critical legislative response to domestic violence, let us each act in the spirit of VAWA to transform our communities in the joint effort to end violence against women.