The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994. It provided $1.6 billion for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. It has subsequently renewed in 2000 and 2005.
According to Federal Department of Justice statistics, intimate partner violence has declined by 67% between 1993 (when the government began focusing on these statistics prior to VAWA’s passage) and 2010. Intimate partner homicides against women have declined 35% against women and 46% against men between 1993 and 2007.
Moreover, VAWA has promoted both victims services AND prevention efforts across the country These efforts include prevention programming funded through grants by the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) and the establishment of the National Domestic Abuse Hotline (which reported receiving 22,000 calls a month, many callers indicating it was their first time requesting help). VAWA also provides state funding through grants to encourage training of police officers and prosecutors, establishment of statewide networks of shelters for individuals and families affected by domestic violence, and the enforcement of no-contact orders across the country.
While the trends are positive, the statistics still show that there is a major problem. A census taken of the 27 remaining domestic violence shelters showed a significant need for services. In a single 24 hour period, crisis lines recieved more than 15 calls per hour and over a 1,000 victims served. Unfortunately, 119 requests for services were denied. This may not seem like a lot, but when research indicates that victims often do not seek services until abuse becomes so significant as to threaten physical safety, then 119 cases can become substantial for any community. 81 of these cases involved a request for emergency shelter which could not be provided in what experts consider a safe space (space secured, separate and inaccessible from perpetrators).
December 14 marks the last day that the Violence Against Women Act re authorization is in affect. Currently, there are two bills (one in the US Senate and one in the House of Representatives) which have been passed but not reconciled. If Congress fails to act, then funding for services nation wide will be cut leaving an even more significant gap in services (both prevention oriented and victims services) will develop during the holidays which is when domestic violence typically increases.
The current House bill unfortunately provides several key caveats to types of victims who can be helped under federal funding.
According to the National Task Force to End Sexual Violence Against Women, House Resolution 4970 will eliminate the requirement that state grant administrators work with community organizers and other stakeholders in developing plans to distribute the state’s federal grant money. This reduces the effectiveness of comprehensive state wide initiatives and focuses domestic violence funds directly into the sole discretion of the elected authorities and their political preferences.
HR 4970 also excludes services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer victims of domestic or intimate partner violence. A 2010 task force regarding LGBTQ services found that even though members of the LGBTQ faced slightly higher rates of violence than the general population, nearly 85% of victims were denied services because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. More than 50% of victims were denied protective orders for similar reasons and state laws defining co-habitation and domestic partnerships which are pre-requisites for services and legal protection in many states. And only 7% of survey respondents said they would report violence to the police.
HR 4970 also creates added burdens on immigrant victims by allowing the perpetrator to be present at hearings for temporary residency which allow undocumented victims to receive immediate protections. It also requires states to hold separate hearings to determine emergency residency status for victims which increases the likelihood of retaliation and joint deportation which does not remediate the problem of domestic violence, only changes its location and likelihood of escalation. It further limits the number of visas that can be given to victims who cooperate with authorities to bring violent perpetrators to justice. This can have a chilling affect on community relations with police and hamper investigations against violent perpetrators of a wide variety of crimes regardless of documentation status.
Last, but certainly not least, is that HR 4970 fails to protect Native Americans against crimes perpetrated by non-immediate family. Native American women face rates, according to the Department of Justice and Indian Affairs, at rates twice the national averages. Estimates are as high as 1 and 3 Native American women will be raped and that 4 out of 5 of those cases will involve men from outside of their tribes, usually white. Under HR 4970, Tribal Authorities, already overwhelmed with a large number of domestic violence and sexual assault cases and claims, would have no jurisdiction to investigate cases where one of the parties is not a part of the community. This creates a serious gap in jurisdiction because of restrictions on US authorities within tribal territory as well. The Senate version (S.1925) addresses this particular gap by granting explicit jurisdiction to Tribal Authorities to include domestic violence, dating violence, and violations of protective orders which can be sought in Tribal Courts against anyone who meets the already stringent requirements.
This issue is too pressing not to act. In an ideal world, we would not need these funds nor these emergency services but we are not there yet. No one should live in fear of an intimate partner. We must all work together to make the world a safer place not just for a few, but for all.
Speak out and call your congress person. Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act now. Reauthorize it for everyone.
EDIT: In the interest of full disclosure, the Men’s Anti-Violence Council was founded at the University of Iowa with the help of an OVW grant. Like many programs, the seed money was critical in generating interest and developing critical mass in terms of participation. Now, thanks to the work of Linda Kroon of the University of Iowa Women’s Resource and Action Center (along with many in the Division of Student Life), MAC is a part of the institutional budget. Grant money is still used on occassion for campus programming, but is rapidly becoming an accepted and acceptable use of institutional resources. We could not have started though without Linda, Jerrod Koon, the University of Iowa, our wonderful volunteers, and the seed money provided by the Office of Violence Against Women.