VAWA: What’s happening and why you should care

In the last year, JWI and the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence have spent countless hours working to update the Violence Against Women Act. Here’s what you need to know before the bill is finally introduced this week.

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What’s VAWA?

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a landmark piece of legislation that improves criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in the United States.

The passage of VAWA in 1994 and its reauthorization in 2000, 2005 and 2013 has changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. VAWA is the original legislation that made intimate partner violence a crime.

Why are we talking about it?

Intimate partner violence continues to harm millions of women each year.

  • One in three women have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.

  • One in five women are raped in their lifetimes.

  • Every 16 hours, a woman is murdered by a male intimate partner with a gun.

  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of a woman being killed by 500%.

  • Women between the ages of 18 and 24 are at the greatest risk of abuse by an intimate partner.

  • More than 80% of Native American and Alaskan Native women will be a victim of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or stalking, often by non-tribal members.

Has the bill been successful in the past?

The Office of Violence Against Women reports in their 2016 Biennial Report to Congress that from July 2013 to June 2015 VAWA funded more than 1 million services to victims.

  • 1,926,892 housing bed nights

  • 591,788 hotline calls

  • 97,534 civil legal advocacy

  • 85,990 criminal justice advocacy

  • 19,602 youth through prevention programming

So what’s happening now?

On April 4, 2019, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1585, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019, with strong bipartisan support by a vote of 263 - 158. Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA-37) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-1) led the House effort. The Senate has yet to introduce a companion bill, but we urge leadership to support a reauthorization bill that is substantially similar to H.R. 1585.

The Violence Against Women Act of 2019 makes vital improvements that are necessary to prevent domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking and to hold offenders accountable.

  • Closes the “boyfriend loophole” and “stalking loophole” by prohibiting convicted misdemeanor perpetrators of these crimes from possessing firearms

  • Expands tribal jurisdiction to allow tribes to prosecute sexual assault in addition to the crimes of domestic violence and dating violence

  • Increases victims’ access to safe housing and economic stability

  • Increases investment in prevention education to change the culture of violence and promote healthy relationships

JWI is an active member of the Steering Committee of the National Task Force on Sexual and Domestic Violence, and leads and convenes the Interfaith Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, working in coalition to effectuate these critical enhancements to VAWA, and advocating for the Senate to pass a bill substantially similar to H.R. 1585.