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What Is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)?

What Is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)?


Domestic violence is a major issue in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 5.3 million women in the U.S. experience domestic abuse each year. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994 to provide funding to help law enforcement and private organizations prevent crimes of domestic violence and aid men and women who have been victimized by it. VAWA also made it easier for prosecutors to attain convictions against sex offenders in federal court, and harder for rapists to avoid conviction. VAWA has awarded more than $8 billion in grants since 1994, and rates of domestic violence have declined since VAWA’s enactment. But rates of domestic violence remain high, and some critics argue that VAWA has not been as effective at achieving its intended purposes as its framers hoped. This blog post will explain the background of VAWA and the protections it
provides victims of domestic violence and rape.

VAWA’s history stretches from the 1970s to the present. Advocates first started calling for federal action to combat domestic violence in the 1970s, raising concerns about both societal attitudes toward this issue and law enforcement’s way of dealing with domestic violence allegations. But when VAWA was enacted in 1994, critics raised concerns about both the efficacy of VAWA’s protections and the possible negative consequences of criminalizing violence between intimate partners. Yet VAWA has been reauthorized four times since 1994, most recently in 2022, and will remain in effect until at least 2027 when it will next be up for reauthorization.

VAWA funds efforts by law enforcement and community organizations to combat sexual harassment. Law enforcement agencies around the country receive extensive funding through VAWA to train their personnel on domestic violence issues and hire personnel to combat it. More than 500,000 police officers, prosecutors, judges, and other personnel receive training each year paid for by VAWA, and VAWA’s funding has incentivized law enforcement agencies to hire police officers and prosecutors specifically dedicated to investigating and prosecuting domestic violence offenses.

But VAWA also increased penalties for federal sex crimes and made it easier for prosecutors to convict rapists. VAWA strengthened federal penalties for repeat sex offenders, and VAWA’s “rape shield law” provision limits the ability of defense attorneys to introduce evidence about past sexual activity of an alleged rape victim at trial. Funding from VAWA ensures that low-income victims do not have to pay for their own rape exams or service of a protection order against their alleged rapist. And under VAWA, a rape victim’s protective order must be recognized by all jurisdictions within the United States.

Sex-related crimes carry serious penalties and social stigma. If you have been charged with one, contact McNeelyLaw today at 317-825-5110 to talk to an experienced criminal law attorney who can help you navigate your case.

This McNeelyLaw LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion of any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.

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