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A Critical Tool to Save Lives: VAWA

A Critical Tool to Save Lives: VAWA

By Edward McEneely

The Violence Against Women Act was an effective response by Congress in 1994 to the devastating effects of domestic and sexual violence. The act has evolved from a small criminal justice initiative to a multidisciplinary federal effort to address the needs of women, men and children threatened by domestic and sexual violence. Policies and programs supported and inspired by the act have been credited with providing lifesaving assistance to hundreds of thousands of victims. Incentives in the act also have encouraged the states to address the problem more assertively.

Congress reauthorized VAWA in 2000 and again in 2005. Now the American Bar Association and other groups are urging Congress once more to reauthorize the act. VAWA has been the single most effective federal effort to respond to the epidemic of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in this country. The act has ensured that legal and social services are available to survivors, and that law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, attorneys and advocates are well-trained and equipped with cutting-edge resources to effectively address these crimes in their own communities.

In January of this year, 53 Attorneys General signed a joint letter to Congress expressing their support for VAWA and urging Congress to reauthorize this critical piece of legislation. Hundreds of local programs, faith groups, state coalitions and others have signed similar letters, urging swift reauthorization and supporting the current Senate bill, S. 1925, co-sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Id.)

Recent studies support arguments for reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. According to a U.S. Justice Department report, for instance, the number of women killed by intimate partners decreased by 35 percent between 1993 (the year before the act’s passage) and 2008, and nonfatal violent acts against women by intimate partners decreased by 53 percent. During the same period, the number of men killed by intimate partners decreased by 46 percent, and the number of nonfatal violent acts against men by intimate partners dropped by 54 percent. Other studies indicate that incidents of domestic and sexual violence tend to go down when victims have legal representation and when they obtain protection orders.

Nevertheless, the United States still has a long way to go. According to a CDC study released in December, nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives. One in 6 women and 1 in 19 men have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed. And about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.

VAWA is a critical tool in the arsenal to address domestic and sexual violence. One study found that in 86% of cases where a victim received a protection order, the abuse stopped or was greatly reduced. Another found that half of victims who obtained a protection order experienced no violations of the order in the following 6 months. For those victims who did experience violations, every type of violence and abuse was reduced significantly during the 6 month follow-up period. A 2010 study demonstrated that an increase in the availability of legal services is associated with a decrease in intimate partner homicide.

VAWA has become an integral part of our public safety strategy that has empirical support for its effectiveness. The good work being done by thousands of local providers and public servants cannot continue without its reauthorization.

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