The Department of Justice announced that it would be keeping the Office on Violence Against Women within the Office of Justice Programs, despite a bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush that requires a more independent and prominent position for the Violence Against Women Office (VAWO). The VAWO Act was passed in October and signed by Bush in November as part of the Department of Justice Reauthorization bill.
Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), author of the VAWO Act, expressed his outrage at the Administration’s decision to ignore Congress, saying in a release that “I find it very ironic that the very agency charged with enforcing the laws and protecting women is willfully ignoring the law and hindering efforts to prevent violence against women.” The new law makes the VAWO an independent office separate from any division of the Department of Justice, as well as making the director of the office a presidential appointee who reports directly to the Attorney General. President Bush has designated Diane Stuart, current head of VAWO, to serve as Acting Director. During debate on the bill, Stuart had advocated for keeping the VAWO within the Office of Justice Programs. Lynn Rosenthal, speaking for the National Network to End Domestic Abuse, disagreed, saying that when VAWO became an entity of the Office of Justice Programs, it become “more focused on the technical aspects of grant making and less on the policy issues that emerge in building programs that address victim safety and offender accountability,” according to Women’s Policy Inc.
“It is absolutely essential to give our fight against domestic violence the high priority and visibility it deserves,” said Sen. Biden. “The Violence Against Women Office is instrumental in our efforts to prevent women and children from being victimized and serves as a vital resource to those harmed by domestic violence.” VAWO distributes more than $270 million a year in grants to the states for programs addressing violence against women.