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The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) was a United States federal law (Title IV, sec. 40001-40703 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, H.R. 3355) signed as Pub.L. 103–322 by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994 (codified in part at 42 U.S.C. sections 13701 through 14040). The Act provided $1.6 billion toward investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave un-prosecuted. The Act also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.

VAWA was cosponsored by Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in 1994 and gained support from a broad coalition of advocacy groups.[1] The Act passed through Congress with bipartisan support in 1994, clearing the United States House of Representatives by a vote of 235–195 and the Senate by a vote of 61–38, although the following year House Republicans attempted to cut the Act's funding.[2] In the 2000 Supreme Court case United States v. Morrison, a sharply divided Court struck down the VAWA provision allowing women the right to sue the accused in federal court. By a 5–4 majority, the Court overturned the provision as exceeding the federal government's powers under the Commerce Clause.[3][4]

VAWA was reauthorized by bipartisan majorities in Congress in 2000 and again in December 2005. The Act's 2012 renewal was opposed by conservative Republicans, who objected to extending the Act's protections to same-sex couples and to provisions allowing battered undocumented immigrants to claim temporary visas, but it was reauthorized in 2013, after a long legislative battle. As a result of the United States federal government shutdown of 2018–2019, the Violence Against Women Act expired on December 21, 2018. It was temporarily reinstated via a short-term spending bill on January 25, 2019, but expired again on February 15, 2019. The House of Representatives passed a bill reauthorizing VAWA in April 2019 that includes new provisions protecting transgender victims and banning individuals convicted of domestic abuse from purchasing firearms.[5] In an attempt to reach a bipartisan agreement, Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) led months of negotiation talks that came to a halt in November 2019. Senator Joni Ernst has said she plans to introduce a new version of the bill and hopes it will pass in the U.S. Senate.[6]

The House version of VAWA, H.R. 1585, currently does not include any federal penalties for female genital mutilation (FGM).[7] According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. are at risk of FGM or have already undergone the operation.[8] Independent Women's Forum has urged Congress to include provisions enhancing penalties for female genital mutilation as well as funding to combat FGM.[9] The House version also does not include measures to deter honor killings, sex trafficking or forced child marriages.[7]

Restraining order granted to a Wisconsin woman against her abuser, noting the nationwide applicability of the order under Full Faith and Credit

When a victim is the beneficiary of an order of protection, per VAWA it was generally enforceable nationwide under the terms of full faith and credit. Although the order may be granted only in a specific state, full faith and credit requires that it be enforced in other states as though the order was granted in their states.18 U.S.C. § 2265[44]

Persons who were covered under VAWA

When a victim is the beneficiary of an order of protection, per VAWA it was generally enforceable nationwide under the terms of full faith and credit. Although the order may be granted only in a specific state, full faith and credit requires that it be enforced in other states as though the order was granted in their states.18 U.S.C. § 2265[44]

Persons who were covered under VAWA immigration provisions

VAWA allowed for the possibility that certain individuals who might not otherwise be eligible for immigration benefits may petition for US permanent residency on the grounds of a close relationship with a US citizen or permanent resident who has been abusing them. The following persons are eligible to benefit from the immigration provisions of VAWA:

  • A wife or husband who has been abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (Green Card holder) spouse. The petition will also cover the petitioner's children under age 21.
  • A child abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent. The petition can be filed by an abused child or by her parent on the child's behalf.
  • A parent who has been abused by a U.S. citizen child who is at least 21 years old.[45]

Coverage of male victims

Although the title of the Act and the titles of its sections refer to victims of domestic violence as women, the operative text is gender-neutral, providing coverage for male victims as well.[46] Individual organizations have not been successful in using VAWA to provide equ

VAWA allowed for the possibility that certain individuals who might not otherwise be eligible for immigration benefits may petition for US permanent residency on the grounds of a close relationship with a US citizen or permanent resident who has been abusing them. The following persons are eligible to benefit from the immigration provisions of VAWA:

  • A wife or husband who has been abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (Green Card holder) spouse. The petition will also cover the petitioner's children under age 21.
  • A child abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent. The petition can be filed by an abused child or by her parent on the child's behalf.
  • A parent who has been abused by a U.S. citizen child who is at least 21 years old.[46] Individual organizations have not been successful in using VAWA to provide equal coverage for men.[47] The law has twice been amended in attempts to address this situation. The 2005 reauthorization added a non-exclusivity provision clarifying that the title should not be construed to prohibit male victims from receiving services under the Act.[48] The 2013 reauthorization added a non-discrimination provision that prohibits organizations receiving funding under the Act from discriminating on the basis of sex, although the law allows an exception for "sex segregation or sex-specific programming" when it is deemed to be "necessary to the essential operations of a program."[49] Jan Brown, the Founder and Executive Director of the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women contends that the Act may not be sufficient to ensure equal access to services.[50]

    Related developments

    Official federal government groups that have developed, being established by President Barack Obama, in relation to the Violence Against Women Act include the White House Council on Women and Girls and the White House Task For

    Official federal government groups that have developed, being established by President Barack Obama, in relation to the Violence Against Women Act include the White House Council on Women and Girls and the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.[51][52] The ultimate aims of both groups are to help improve and/or protect the well-being and safety of women and girls in the United States.[51][52]

    See also