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The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a United States federal law (Title IV, sec. 40001-40703 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, H.R. 3355) signed as Pub.L. 103-322 by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994. The Act provided $1.6 billion toward investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted. The Act also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.
VAWA was drafted by the office of Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), with support from a broad coalition of advocacy groups. The Act passed through Congress with bipartisan support in 1994, clearing the House by a vote of 235–195 and the Senate by a vote of 61–38, although the following year House Republicans attempted to cut the Act's funding. In the 2000 Supreme Court case United States v. Morrison, a sharply divided Court struck down the VAWA provision allowing women the right to sue their attackers in federal court. By a 5–4 majority, the Court's conservative wing overturned the provision as an intrusion on states' rights.
VAWA was reauthorized by Congress in 2000, and again in December 2005. The Act's 2012 renewal was fiercely opposed by conservative Republicans, who objected to extending the Act's protections to same-sex couples and to provisions allowing battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas.
The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993, and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the same year, concluded that civil society and governments have acknowledged that domestic violence is a public health policy and human rights concern.
The Violence Against Women Act was developed and passed as a result of extensive grassroots efforts in the late 80's and early 1990s, with advocates and professionals from the battered women's movement, sexual assault advocates, victim services field, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors' offices, the courts, and the private bar urging Congress to adopt significant legislation to address domestic and sexual violence. Since its original passage in 1994, VAWA's focus has expanded from domestic violence and sexual assault to also include dating violence and stalking. It funds services to protect adult and teen victims of these crimes, and supports training on these issues, to ensure consistent responses across the country. One of the greatest successes of VAWA is its emphasis on a coordinated community response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; courts, law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services, and the private bar currently work together in a coordinated effort that had not heretofore existed on the state and local levels. VAWA also supports the work of community-based organizations that are engaged in work to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, particularly those groups that provide culturally and linguistically specific services. Additionally, VAWA provides specific support for work with tribes and tribal organizations to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking against Indian women.
Many grant programs authorized in VAWA have been funded by the U.S. Congress. The following grant programs, which are administered primarily through the Office on Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice have received appropriations from Congress:
STOP Grants (State Formula Grants); Transitional Housing Grants; Grants to Encourage Arrest and Enforce Protection Orders; Court Training and Improvement Grants; Research on Violence Against Indian Women; National Tribal Sex Offender Registry; Stalker Reduction Database; Federal Victim Assistants; Sexual Assault Services Program; Services for Rural Victims; Civil Legal Assistance for Victims; Elder Abuse Grant Program; Protections and Services for Disabled Victims; Combating Abuse in Public Housing; National Resource Center on Workplace Responses; Violence on College Campuses Grants; Safe Havens Project; Engaging Men and Youth in Prevention.
The American Civil Liberties Union had originally expressed concerns about the Act, saying that the increased penalties were rash, the increased pretrial detention was "repugnant" to the US Constitution, the mandatory HIV testing of those only charged but not convicted is an infringement of a citizen’s right to privacy and the edict for automatic payment of full restitution was non-judicious (see their paper: "Analysis of Major Civil Liberties Abuses in the Crime Bill Conference Report as Passed by the House and the Senate", dated September 29, 1994). However, the ACLU has supported reauthorization of VAWA on the condition that the "unconstitutional DNA provision" be removed.
The ACLU, in their July 27, 2005 'Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, S. 1197' stated that "VAWA is one of the most effective pieces of legislation enacted to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It has dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women and has provided critical services necessary to support women in their struggle to overcome abusive situations."
Some conservative activists opposed the bill. A spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America called the Act a "boondoggle" which "creates an ideology that all men are guilty and all women are victims." Phyllis Schlafly denounced VAWA as a tool to "fill feminist coffers" and argued that the Act promoted "divorce, breakup of marriage and hatred of men."
In 2000 the Supreme Court of the United States held part of VAWA unconstitutional in United States v. Morrison on federalism grounds. Only the civil rights remedy of VAWA was struck down. The provisions providing program funding were unaffected.
As of April 2012, the law is currently up for reauthorization in Congress. Different versions of the legislation have been passed along party lines in the Senate and House, with the Democratically-sponsored Senate version favoring expansion of the law to provide more services to illegal immigrants and LGBT individuals. The two bills are currently pending reconciliation, and with November elections approaching it is unclear whether a final bill will reach the President's desk before the end of the year.
The Violence Against Women laws provide programs and services, including:
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