Saturday will be the 20th Anniversary of the groundbreaking federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Passed in 1994, VAWA was the first piece of federal legislation to specifically address domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes and to provide federal funding to improve local response to violence against women, including training and resources for law enforcement and judges.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday issued a proclamation commemorating the VAWA anniversary. “At a time when many considered domestic abused to be a private family matter and victims were left to suffer in silence, this law enshrined a simple promise: every American should be able to pursue his or her own measure of happiness free from the fear of harm,” the President’s Proclamation reads.
“VAWA has established a national standard in the fight to reduce sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking,” said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, who played a central role in the passage of VAWA in 1994 and in each subsequent fight for VAWA reauthorization, including the 2013 reauthorization which broadened protections for Native American women, LGBT individuals, immigrants, and students. “VAWA has literally saved women’s lives.”
In the period between 1993 and 2010, the number of fatalities resulting from intimate partner violence decreased by 26 percent. In addition, the law has saved an estimated $12.6 billion in net averted social costs in the first six years.
“But our work is far from over,” said Smeal. “The need for community policing, discrimination against women and people of color in police hiring, promotion, and retention, and the continuing problem of too many police officers themselves engaging in domestic violence discourages many women from ever reporting violence. What’s more, too many women are being charged equally with their batterers for assault.” She continued, “Most importantly, we need to increase funding for VAWA and survivor services like emergency housing, counseling, and legal assistance. The work continues. But VAWA has laid the necessary groundwork for us to win.”
VAWA was first introduced by Vice President Joe Biden while he was still a Delaware senator in 1990. The bill was signed into law on September 13, 1994, under the Clinton Administration. In a weekend editorial, Vice President Biden wrote about the prevailing attitudes surrounding the prosecution of domestic violence offenders in the early 1990s, and his work to unearth the reality of gender-based violence and relationship abuse. “I issued ‘Violence Against Women: A Week in the Life of America,’ a report detailing the human tragedy of the 21,000 crimes against women that were reported every week in America at the time – a small slice of the 1.1 million assaults, aggravated assaults, murders, and rapes against women committed in the home and reported to police that year,” Biden wrote.
Vice President Biden continued to emphasize the criminal nature of violence against women in an interview with Tamron Hall about the indefinite suspension of NFL Ravens’ running back Ray Rice. Biden, commenting that the NFL did the right thing, went on to address his frustration with the current conversation on intimate partner violence and sexual assault. “The one regret I have is we call it ‘domestic violence,’ as if it’s a domesticated cat. It is the most vicious form of violence there is, because of not only the physical scars that are left, the psychological scars that are left,” he said. “The next challenge is making sure we get college presidents and colleges to understand that they have a responsibility for the safety of women on their campus.”
One in five women are sexually assaulted in college. In April, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first report, detailing the steps it will take to identify the scope of the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, help prevent it, and support survivors. The White House also created a website to provide information and resources on campus sexual assault: www.NotAlone.gov.
Media Resources: White House Blog, 9/9/14; Delaware News Journal 9/7/14; Feminist Majority Press Office 9/12/14; Today Show 9/9/14; Feminist Newswire 4/29/14; www.NotAlone.gov