NOW’s Advocacy for VAWA
In the early 1990’s NOW and the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (NOW LDEF) led the campaign to pass VAWA we have worked with allies over the years to reauthorize the act to assure funding to support programs preventing violence against women, protections for survivors, and other supports.
The Origins of VAWA
Then-Senator Joe Biden first introduced VAWA in 1990, when domestic violence was considered a family matter and few in Congress wanted to work on the issue. Over the next three years, Biden used his role on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to hear directly from survivors, during hours of testimony, about their experiences with domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as from issue experts.
In 1993, then-Senator Biden wrote, “Through this process, I have become convinced that violence against women reflects as much a failure of our nation’s collective moral imagination as it does the failure of our nation’s laws and regulations.”
VAWA faced opposition from the first Bush Administration and conservatives in Congress and on the Supreme Court, but after four years of work from sympathetic members of congress, NOW activists, and our allies, the Act passed in September 1994 with significant bipartisan support.
This legislation has become a cornerstone for the movement to end violence against women and has been reauthorized in 2000, 2005, 2013 and 2022. Each time, reauthorization has expanded protections for especially vulnerable communities, including Native women and LGBTQIA+ individuals.
NOW and VAWA
- 1973: The NOW Task Force on Rape is created to set up Rape Crisis Centers and hotlines across the country; NOW begins campaigns to redefine rape as a crime of violence.
- 1975: NOW calls all members to the streets to protest violence against women and to “claim the night and the streets as ours” – the first “Take Back the Night” actions.
- 1976: The NOW Task Force on Battered Women is established.
- 1978: NOW helps pass a Rape Shield Law, protecting the privacy of rape survivors by preventing cross-examination of the woman’s prior sexual history.
- 1990 – 1994: NOW lobbies for four years to pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is signed in 1994 with an unprecedented $1.6 billion dollar budget for violence prevention and services.
- 1995: more than 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., on April 9 for the Rally for Women’s Lives, the first and largest mass action to stop violence against women. Organized by NOW and endorsed by a record 702 national and local groups, the rally coincided with NOW Foundation’s Young Feminist Conference brought in many new activists, especially young activists from more than 200 college campuses.
- 1997: NOW pressures Congress to pass the Domestic Violence Option, allowing states to grant women escaping violence exemptions from punitive new welfare reform provisions.
- The early 2000s: Over a period of ten years, NOW and the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence worked diligently to include within VAWA provisions that would facilitate better protections and justice for Native American women because survivors of violence living on reservations depend upon tribal law enforcement and tribal courts to prosecute perpetrators properly.
- 2005: NOW protests Justice Department’s “medical guidelines” for treating rape survivors – it fails to mention emergency contraception, a standard precaution against pregnancy after rape.
- 2017: NOW launches the #EnoughIsEnough campaign, with coalition partners including Feminist Majority, National Congress of Black Women, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Legal Momentum and UNITE HERE to develop effective strategies aimed at bringing about substantive change to prevent, address and remedy sexual harassment and assault in the workplaces and schools, with a special emphasis on low-paid workers.
- 2021: NOW holds the Addressing the Femicide Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women virtual town hall.
- Today: NOW speaks out regularly in the media and in communications to our members on high-profile abuse cases, including Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanaugh, Larry Nassar, R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, and more.