BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Strengthening landmark legislation to combat domestic violence

Posted by egehl on July 13, 2009


The Violence Against Women Act, otherwise known as VAWA, has been an important federal policy to combat against domestic violence and other violent crimes against women.  The original passage of VAWA in 1994 was a landmark piece of legislation for women’s rights because it filled a void in federal law that had left too many victims of domestic and sexual violence without the help they needed.  The bill must be reauthorized in 2010 before it expires in September 2011 therefore Congress has already begun the process of reexamining VAWA, and figuring out ways to strengthen key components of the bill.  

Since the enactment of VAWA, the rates of non-fatal and fatal domestic violence have declined, more victims have felt confident to come forward to report these crimes and to seek help, and states have passed more than 600 laws to combat these crimes.  Despite this progress, however, our country still has a long way to go in addressing the high rates of violence against women. Millions of women continue to be traumatized by abuse and recently it has come into the national spotlight with the physical abuse of Rihanna by Chris Brown. We know that one in four women are victims of domestic violence and one in six women are victims of sexual assault.  In addition, 1.4 million individuals are stalked each year.

There are a lot of components to VAWA because violence can happen in varying forms and impact different populations.  The future bill must address the following areas: children, court and law enforcement, communities of color, disabilities, health issues, housing, immigration, gay communities, military, offenders, older victims, prevention, privacy and technology, services, tribal issues, economic justice and the workplace. 

That’s a lot to tackle but each is an important component to addressing the intricate puzzle of how and why violence takes place. 

Programs to assist victims of domestic and sexual violence are particularly important during difficult economic times when these types of crime often increase and funding sources to support these programs evaporate.  This was discussed in a previous Young Women Misbehavin’ blog entitled “An economy that’s more than just financially sick” which mentions that as “the economic downturn deepens, the new challenges faced by many people will be translated into increased stress, anxiety, anger and frustration.   This can lead to an increase in domestic violence and child abuse.”  The emotional toll this recession has had on families will be felt for years because financial stress is often at the epicenter of family and couple disputes. 

Crisis centers and hotlines are reporting an alarming increase in victimization nationwide. A 2008 census by the National Network to End Domestic Violence  found that in just one day, more than 60,500 adults and children were served by local domestic violence programs. Yet due to a lack of resources, almost 9000 requests for services went unmet.  Therefore strengthening VAWA is crucially important as the country continues to push through and recover from the ongoing economic crisis. 

Momentum is growing around how to engage men to end violence against women. 

Throughout the world, there are an increasing number of successful programs that are changing social norms and attitudes about the acceptability of violence. Many of these programs engage men in changing their own behavior and also work with men and boys to end harmful traditional practices and domestic and sexual violence.  Dialogue is happening about what are successful programs that are working to combat violence and include the involvement of men.  This new line of thinking has a lot of potential and men must be part of the solution. 

This summer advocates will be busy getting the current VAWA fully funded and technically correct, but work must begin now to draft next years’ VAWA reauthorization.  Advocates will need the support and voice of the grassroots, especially those in the field engaged in domestic violence related work, to educate Congress about the importance of VAWA and why it should be protected and expanded.   Together we can mount a solid and effective campaign of awareness and determination to pass a strong bill.


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