On April 26, 2012 the U.S. Senate voted 68-31 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) for an additional 5 years, despite efforts by opponents to pass a more narrow version of the Act. The Senate version contains more funding for education and other services, as well as recognizes the special needs of Native Americans, immigrants, and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community.
VAWA was first signed into law in 1994 and has been reauthorized twice before; in 2000 and again in 2005. In what women‘s advocates call a landmark piece of legislation, VAWA is aimed at improving the response of the community, police, and justice system to several forms of violence against women including domestic violence/domestic abuse rape, dating violence, and stalking.
VAWA created the Department of Justice‘s Office on Violence Against Women and provides federal funding for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. It also imposes mandatory and automatic restitution on defendants who are convicted of violence against women. Additionally, VAWA provides a civil remedy when a district attorney does not prosecute a crime of violence against a woman,
The latest version of VAWA contains a number of provisions that have met staunch opposition. These provisions expand protection to Native American women, immigrants, and members of the LGBT community. For example, a new provision in VAWA gives tribal courts jurisdiction over non-Indian domestic violence defendants if the alleged crime occurred on reservation land. This provision is especially significant in states like New Mexico with a high Native American population. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, American Indians and Crime, violent crime against Native American women occurs at a rate 3 ½ times greater than the national average. Opponents of the VAWA provision argue that in many cases, prosecuting non-Indians in tribal courts would deny defendants due process and would therefore be unconstitutional.
Another point of contention is a provision that would increase the number of temporary U.S. visas for illegal immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. The new provision would expand the number of temporary visas available by allowing the unused visas from previous years to be added to the annual 10,000 U visas currently available to victims of domestic violence, rape, and sex trafficking. Opponents of the new provision argue that this would effectively grant a form of amnesty to illegal immigrants. Proponents argue that the visas are indispensable in helping victims whose abusers may be using the threat of deportation to control and exploit them.
Further, a provision that would expand VAWA‘s protection to gay, transgender, and bisexual victims of domestic violence has met with stiff opposition. Although VAWA currently prohibits discrimination on any basis, including sexual orientation, many proponents of the new provision want to make it clear that members of the LBGT community are covered under VAWA.
Other less controversial new provisions will keep federal funding at the current level but allocate more funds toward domestic violence education on college campuses. The Senate bill also lengthens the time that a victim can stay in temporary housing and improves the legal protection available to victims of stalking. The Senate bill also reserves 20% of funds for forensic response and police training.
Whether or not the new version of VAWA is enacted, the recent debate highlights the serious issues facing women in the United States and what the law can do to address them. In the meantime, there is help available for victims of domestic violence.
Domestic Abusers May Seek Control through Child Custody
Divorce, Hostile Shared Residence and Domestic Violence
Domestic Violence Orders of Protection Under New Mexico‘s Family Violence Protection Act