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Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA)

The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 is a federal law that was signed by President Bill Clinton. The Act established the Office on Violence Against Women, which is responsible for: 1) developing federal policy and programs to reduce domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking; 2) creating programs and grants to help investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women; and, 3) increasing funding for direct services to victims of domestic violence.

Domestic violence has crept into the daily life of nearly every American: from the streets, to workplaces, and homes. Domestic violence costs this country an estimated 8 billion dollars every year in health care expenses and lost productivity. Studies show that domestic violence causes an estimated: 2 million injuries each year; 3 deaths every day; and, an unknown amount of suffering for women and their families.

In 1994 the Act was passed by Congress with bipartisan support and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. The current authorization expired in 2011. Until recently, re-authorization has been an uncontroversial, bipartisan process. Unfortunately, the Act‘s 2012 re-authorization has been fiercely opposed by some members of Congress. Opposition is primarily directed at three new provisions that provide protection for: 1) lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals; 2) undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse; and, 3) Native Americans by authorizing tribes to prosecute crimes involving domestic violence.

Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgendered Individuals

The proposed Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act includes provisions to expand efforts to prevent, report, and prosecute sexual assault against underserved populations. Individuals that are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered are included in the underserved population in the reauthorized Act. Statistics show that these underserved populations suffer from a higher rate of domestic violence and sexual assault than others. Those who oppose these new provisions argue that when so many people are included in the “underserved population” the reauthorized Act at no longer provides special protection to anyone because now everyone is part of the underserved population.

Immigration

The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 allowed victims of domestic violence that did not have the proper documents to remain in the United States to apply for legal status by obtaining a U visa, as long as they agreed to cooperate with law enforcement. A U visa can be critical for a victim of domestic violence because it gives them authorization to work, as well as the legal right to remain in this country. This means that the victim is no longer reliant on the abuser for income or residency status. Currently, law enforcement may issue 10,000 U visas per year. The proposed Reauthorized Act would allow law enforcement to issue an additional 5,000 U visas each year

Tribal Law
The National Congress of American Indians, which is a Native American rights advocacy group, recently published statistics stating that about 40 percent of Native American women will face domestic violence and more than half of Native American women are married to non-Native American men. What this means is that a large portion of the domestic violence affecting Native American women, occurs between tribal and non-tribal members. In such cases, very little is done in the way of prosecution because local tribal authorities do not have jurisdiction over those who are not tribal members. Under the proposed Reauthorized Act, local tribal authorities would have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians for the purposes of prosecuting acts of domestic violence.

If you are the victim of domestic violence, there are numerous domestic violence resources available. You should seek help immediately. There are a number of organizations that provide free legal assistance for victims of domestic violence. If you so choose and your financial resources permit, it may also be beneficial to seek private counsel with an experienced family law attorney.

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