The 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was a significant feminist victory, allowing women to sue for monetary damages in federal civil court, including medical expenses and lost wages. VAWA also includes provisions to fund battered-women’s shelters and domestic-abuse hot lines.
Tomorrow, January 11, the Supreme Court will hear Brzonkala v. Morrison, a case involving a Virginia Polytechnic Institute student who was allegedly raped in a dormitory by two football players who were students. This is a major case for women , as the Court will decide whether to uphold VAWA’s civil rights section. Both a District Court Judge and the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the civil rights section of VAWA permitting women to enter the court and sue for damages if she is a victim of gender-based violence represents an abuse of Congress’s power, leaving Brzonkala with no way to remedy her case. NOWLDEF is representing Brzonkala.
While opponents of the bill are focusing on the issue of states’ rights, the crux of the case is the right of women to seek damages in cases of gender-based violence. Advocates of VAWA point to evidence that state and local law enforcement to do adequately respond to domestic violence and rape, and that state laws on violence continue to reflect bias against women.
The National Organization for Women will hold a rally outside the Supreme Court in support of VAWA Tuesday, January 11, 9:30 am at First Street and Maryland Avenue N.E. Feminists are urged to attend.