The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first passed by Congress in 1994, was introduced in the Senate for reauthorization this past week. Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the bill June 8. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) were among the bill’s co-sponsors. A landmark piece of legislation for women’s rights, VAWA provides federal funding and protections for the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault and assistance to victims. VAWA also includes critical provisions for improvements in law enforcement and judicial response to violence against women.
First signed into law by President Clinton in 1994, women’s rights groups fought for and won reauthorization of the bill in 2000 after months of Republican stalling. The Feminist Majority, led by Eleanor Smeal, played a major role in the passage of the original VAWA. This crucial piece of legislation will expire if Congress does not reauthorize it by September of 2005.
The VAWA bill introduced last week would not only reauthorize critical programs and services already in place but would also expand these provisions. For example, VAWA 2005 includes the Sexual Assault Services Act (SASA) which would provide funding for direct services for sexual assault victims, including 24-hour emergency and support services. SASA would address the fact that due to state budget cuts, rape crisis and other community-based support centers are increasingly and drastically under-funded, according to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women.