The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed into federal law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. The Act provides money for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposes automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allows a civil remedy in cases where prosecutors choose not to prosecute.
The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993 and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the same year, concluded that civil society and governments have acknowledged that domestic violence is a public health and human rights concern.
Since the VAWA’s passage in 1994 its focus has expanded from domestic violence and sexual assault to also include dating violence and stalking. The act also supports community based organizations that are engaged in work to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking against women, particularly those groups that support culturally and language specific services. There is also support for these organizations that work with Indian tribes and tribal organizations that help Native American women deal with these issues.
Debate and Legal Standing
The American Civil Liberties Union had originally expressed concerns about the Act, saying that the increased penalties were rash, that the increased pretrial detention was “repugnant” to the United States Constitution and that the mandatory HIV testing of those only charged but not convicted was a violation of the right to privacy. Since that time the ACLU has supported the reauthorization of the VAWA with the removal of the mandatory DNA provision.
Some others in opposition called the VAWA a “boondoggle” which will cause unnecessary suspicion that all men are to be feared and considered violent and all women are victims. There will be a climate of false accusations, rushes to judgment and hidden agendas. A conservative activist states the VAWA would be a tool to ”fill feminist doffers and promote divorce, breakup of marriages and hatred of men.
2012-2013 legislative battle and reauthorization
The VAWA expired in 2011. Congress attempted to renew the Act in 2012. Renewal was opposed by conservative Republicans because there was an addition to the renewed Act adding protections for same-sex couples and allowing battered undocumented persons the claim temporary visa. The debate raged and finally an all inclusive reauthorization of the VAWA was signed by President Obama in 2013.
Coverage of male victims
Although the title of the Act refers to women, the language of the Act is gender neutral and, in theory, provides protection for male violence victims. In fact, the 2005 reauthorization added a non-exclusivity provision clarifying that the title should not be construed to prohibit male victims from receiving services under the Act.
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