The Bush Administration has backtracked on its plan to weaken the Violence Against Women Office (VAWO) in an important victory for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Despite a bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush that requires a more independent and prominent position for VAWO, the Department of Justice had announced that it would be keeping the office within the Office of Justice Programs. However, the DOJ announced at the end of March that it would make VAWO a separate, high-profile office within the DOJ under a director appointed by the President who reports directly to the Attorney General.
“This is a big day for those of us who’ve fought so long and so hard to shine the spotlight on the fight against domestic violence, and give it the priority and visibility it deserves,” said Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), author of the original law creating VAWO, in a press statement. “Protecting the most vulnerable among us—battered women and their children—is not only our responsibility but our moral obligation. This Office is a big part of our efforts to do that, and I am extremely happy that after a bit of arm-twisting, the Bush Administration has recognized its importance.”
However, as the National Organization for Women (NOW) argues, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is severely underfunded. The budget for the Department of Health and Human Services’ battered women’s shelter and services program is $47.7 million below its authorized level of $175 million, and Bush’s 2004 budget cuts this program even further, down to $124.4 million. NOW is urging Congress to fully fund the program at its authorized level of $175 million. In addition, the 2000 VAWA authorized $25 million for transitional housing program for people fleeing violence, but this program has never been funded.