What is The Violence Against Women Act?
The original 1994 version of VAWA, authored by then-Senator Joseph R. Biden, was the first federal legislation acknowledging domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes. It provided federal resources to fund and promote community-coordinated responses to combating violence against women.
The Act comes up for renewal every five years, and during that time NOW activists and allies work to build on the existing protections and programs that VAWA created, and also to expand and enhance protections to make sure that all communities are included, particularly Black, Indigenous, Communities of color, undocumented women and the LGBTQIA+ community.
VAWA recipients deliver lifesaving direct services to victims and their families and hold offenders accountable through the criminal justice system. VAWA grantees serve hundreds of thousands of victims annually, including:
- Providing critical services like hotlines and victim advocates,
- Temporary housing for victims and their children, and
- Legal assistance improves survivors’ access to and experience with court procedures like custody arrangements and protection orders.
The Office of Violence Against Women
The Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) assumes the day-to-day work of implementing VAWA, including implementing formula grant programs and discretionary grant programs. These programs fund victim services, legal assistance, law enforcement, prosecution services, and court practices. They also provide training and technical assistance to those working in the field.
VAWA addresses domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking through the development of coordinated community care among law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services, and attorneys. Among other provisions, VAWA:
- Makes domestic violence a federal crime when state lines are crossed.
- Provides grants to states for programs that prevent violence against women or provide services for victims of violence.
- Provides support for work with tribes and tribal organizations to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking against Native American women.
- Doubles federal penalties for repeat sex offenders.19
Since the passage of VAWA in 1994, every state has enacted laws making stalking a crime and each state strengthened criminal rape statutes.