August 27, 2020

VAWA Faces Hard Road Ahead

Competing bills threaten to stall reauthorization efforts

Established in 1994, VAWA responds to the needs of victims, provides tools for holding offenders accountable, and sets up measures for data collection

Established in 1994, VAWA responds to the needs of victims, provides tools for holding offenders accountable, and sets up measures for data collection

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), one of the most popular federal policies aimed at ending domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking, expired in February 2019 when partisan fighting over key provisions brought reauthorization efforts to a standstill. Unfortunately, it seems the same partisan arguments threaten to stall progress on the Act again this year.

Established in 1994 by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act to aid in preventing violent crime, VAWA responds to the needs of victims, provides tools for holding offenders accountable, and sets up measures for data collection to learn more about these crimes. The program has been reauthorized in a bipartisan manner several times since its inception, most recently in 2013. However, VAWA reauthorization has become more and more contentious over time, resulting in multiple competing legislative proposals in both the House and Senate. Because of nuances between the proposed bills, ABA policy was not specific enough to allow the Association to take a position in support of one bill over another. That changed on August 6, 2020.

The ABA House of Delegates adopted resolution 113A at the Association’s annual meeting to update ABA policy from 2010 that supports VAWA reauthorization. Resolution 113A is a forward-looking resolution, preserving the hard-fought gains of previous reauthorizations while evolving to respond to emerging and unmet challenges.

The ABA’s new policy seeks to ensure that no rollbacks to existing VAWA protections will be made, such as removing nondiscrimination mandates or weakening outreach and services to underserved communities. By taking a trauma-centered approach and following the advice of experts who work to identify and meet the needs of survivors, a balance can be struck between defending the existing statute and being responsive to unmet needs.

In the current VAWA reauthorization process, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1585 on April 4, 2019 with bipartisan support. On November 13, 2019, the Senate introduced S. 2843 as a companion to H.R. 1585. A week later, S. 2920 was introduced, an alternative VAWA reauthorization bill that includes rollbacks to the existing law. Both Senate bills remain pending.

The ABA will continue to advocate for reauthorization of VAWA as one of our legislative priorities. Our policy now supports proposals that restrict adjudicated abusers’ access to firearms by enforcing existing federal law and by closing the “boyfriend loophole” that allows abusers not married to their victims a functional free pass from surrender provisions. ABA policy also supports VAWA pilot programs that would create responsibly crafted, victim-defined innovations to serve as alternatives to criminal justice penalties, as well as acknowledge that survivors have been requesting these alternatives for decades. Finally, the ABA supports expanding the inherent jurisdiction of tribal courts over gender-based violence on tribal lands.

If you would like to receive more information on VAWA reauthorization and/or assist the ABA in advocating on it, please visit the Grassroots Action Center and register for the Grassroots Action Team here.

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