A major expansion of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) will soon be introduced in the 105th Congress. NOW and the National Task Force on Violence Against Women are playing an instrumental role in developing and backing the Violence Against Women Act of 1998.
VAWA II, as it is dubbed, contains a sorely needed $1 billion for constructing battered women's shelters over the next five years. Other major elements of the bill address the needs of battered women in the workplace, focus on sexual assault on campus and in the military, establish new programs for victims services and fund training for judges.
Safeguarding Battered Women at Work
A new thrust of the legislation responds to battered women at work, especially low-income workers and welfare-to-work participants. Studies show that a place of employment is one of the most dangerous places for women. Former partners track them down there, stalk, harass and abuse them on the job.
One innovative approach in the bill offers tax incentives to encourage employers to establish programs to assist survivors of domestic violence. Another amends the Occupational Health and Safety Act to require employers to take steps to maintain workplaces safe from violence.
A key item in the bill requires that workers compensation plans include coverage for physical and psychiatric injuries resulting from domestic violence. Employers are also encouraged to provide time off for survivors to attend court hearings and receive medical care.
Funding for Training Resistant Judges
An especially important component is the continuation of the judicial training section, which first appeared in the 1994 act but has never been funded. New provisions would make training mandatory for certain types of judges.
Reportedly, judges have been resistant to receiving education on domestic violence and many continue to ignore state and federal laws on the subject. Domestic violence activists report that judges frequently doubt and often more severely penalize women who cite battering or child abuse in divorce and child custody matters.
Taking Sexual Violence Seriously
VAWA II proposes substantial initiatives against sexual violence, including support for programs that provide enhanced protection from sexual predators, prohibitions against sexual misconduct in prison between corrections staff and prisoners, creation of a national commission to review standards of practice and training for sexual assault examinations and establishment of a National Resource Center on Sexual Assault, with a national sexual assault hotline.
The bill calls for a national summit of sports, political and media figures to develop a plan to deter domestic violence and sexual assault among athletes. This abuse is recognized as a serious problem in many professional and amateur sports associations and university athletic programs.
A section of the bill improves campus crime reporting and criminal procedures and provides for grants to reduce violent crimes against women on campuses, plus funding for a baseline study of reporting procedures. A frequent practice of university officials is to ignore or treat lightly assaults by students — particularly male athletes — and to fail to report serious offenses or to punish offenders.
Improving Health Services for Survivors
A great deal of emphasis is placed on federal programs to improve health care services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, including development of a model curriculum for medical professionals. The bill would require all federal government medical professionals to be trained in domestic violence and all hospitals receiving General Medical Education funds to train medical professionals in this area.
Other sections of VAWA II would amend federal employees' health insurance plans to require screening for domestic violence and support programs for survivors who have HIV/AIDS.
Calling for Prevention, Restitution
The legislation also contains provisions that:
Marshaling Political Support
The 289-page draft has been circulating for review and comment for several months, and formal introduction is expected to occur in mid-February. NOW activists are optimistic that the legislation will pass this Congress and point to national opinion surveys that consistently show that violence is one of the top two or three concerns of women.