29th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
Today marks the 29th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) — landmark legislation aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Born from years of grass-roots advocacy, and from the voices and leadership of survivors, VAWA’s 1994 enactment was a testament to the power of collective action in shaping public policy and in setting a vision for our nation to advance a society that does not tolerate abuse.
Progress and Collective Action
Significant progress has been made over the past nearly three decades, and we are committed to continuing to strengthen and expand initiatives to prevent and address gender-based violence, and to providing comprehensive support for survivors and their families to access safety, justice, and healing.
Reauthorization and Survivor-Centered Approaches
One of the important aspects of VAWA is that every time the legislation is due for reauthorization, it has provided an opportunity to take collective action to identify and enhance what is working well, as well as to identify and address gaps and emerging issues to advance this vision. This requires centering the voices and lived experiences of survivors, to ensure that all survivors, including those from historically marginalized or underserved communities, have pathways to safety, healing, and justice.
Gratitude and Impact
We are grateful to the countless advocates, service providers, community leaders, and justice system professionals, among others, who continue to work relentlessly to widen the net of support for survivors of gender-based violence and their families. Their efforts make an indelible impact, as demonstrated by last year’s reauthorization of VAWA.
VAWA 2022 and Ongoing Progress
In March 2022, President Biden signed into law the bipartisan VAWA Reauthorization Act of 2022 (VAWA 2022), which was the fifth iteration of VAWA since he championed its original passage in 1994 as a Senator. VAWA 2022 strengthens and expands protections and programs to improve access to safety and support for survivors, enhance prevention efforts, and continue to advance social change in how communities address and respond to these crimes.
Leadership and Funding
I am grateful and honored for the opportunity to lead OVW at this monumental time as its first Senate-confirmed Director in over a decade. It is also an honor to work with the dedicated, mission-driven team at OVW and with the unwavering support and commitment of the Attorney General and Department of Justice leadership to advance these goals. OVW is currently in the process of awarding grants for the 2023 fiscal year, operating with an unprecedented budget of $700 million. This robust funding enables the office not only to strengthen coordinated community responses across the nation but also to implement new and innovative programs created by VAWA 2022.
Intersectionality and Broader Protections
Each reauthorization of VAWA has demonstrated an evolving understanding of the intersectional issues survivors face and the need to strengthen survivor-centered and trauma-informed approaches. The Act’s scope has continually expanded, not only to maintain essential programs but also to support services that address the many challenges faced by survivors and provide more comprehensive services, including addressing critical issues of housing and economic stability. This also includes broader investments and protections to address violence in rural areas, supporting culturally specific services, providing services for LGBTQI+ survivors and survivors with disabilities who are disproportionately affected by violence, protecting immigrants, recognizing the inherent authority of sovereign Tribal nations to prosecute non-Native offenders, among many other things.
Addressing Technological Abuse and Economic Support
New protections in the latest reauthorization of VAWA also respond to emerging issues. While the advances in technology bring new opportunities to enhance services and support, they also bring their own challenges, with technology-assisted abuse increasingly becoming a more expansive tool for offenders. VAWA 2022 recognizes this and includes provisions to help law enforcement and victim service providers tackle online abuse and harassment, offering strategies and resources to combat online harm, including the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. VAWA 2022 also focuses on economic support and housing stability for survivors by expanding legal assistance and transitional housing options. This helps survivors mitigate the risk of homelessness by offering comprehensive legal representation, including in eviction cases—facilitating more stable living conditions for survivors.
Protecting Indigenous Communities and Restorative Practices
Another landmark achievement of VAWA 2022 is its focus on increasing protections for Indigenous communities. It expands upon VAWA 2013 by recognizing the inherent authority of Tribes to exercise special criminal jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators for not only domestic violence and dating violence offenses on Tribal lands but also sexual violence, sex trafficking, child violence, and stalking, among other crimes. In a significant step, VAWA 2022 authorized a pilot program for Indian Tribes in Alaska to seek designation permitting them to exercise special tribal criminal jurisdiction within Alaska Native villages. Moreover, the support of restorative practices in VAWA 2022 is a watershed opportunity to provide additional pathways to justice and healing for survivors.
Continuing the Journey
Again, the progress we’re witnessing today is the result of concerted efforts by community members nationwide who have unequivocally stated that abuse has no place in our society. While we can take pride in the progress that we have made through landmark legislation like VAWA and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, as well as state and federal initiatives, the journey is far from over. Gender-based violence remains a threat to public health and public safety that harms every community.
A Vision for a Safer Future
Every survivor of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and other interconnected forms of gender-based violence should be able to access trauma-informed, comprehensive services and support. They should have every opportunity to find safety, pursue justice, and find healing. It is also critical that we continue to enhance prevention efforts. Because of these tenets, VAWA serves as a social contract, affirming that abuse will not be tolerated and that everyone has the right to live free from the threat of violence. VAWA will undoubtedly continue to evolve, as it has over the last three decades, and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with survivors, advocates, service providers, civil and criminal justice personnel, health care providers, educators, government officials, and community members everywhere to advance this vision together.