Survivors Need VAWA—But the ERA Would Make It Even More Powerful

vawa-violence-against-women-act-era-equal-rights-amendment
Angelina Jolie joins U.S. senators to announce a bipartisan Violence Against Women Act on Wednesday, Feb, 9, 2022. (Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images).

After months of negotiations, a bipartisan group of senators announced Wednesday that they had reached a deal to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)—which has been expired since December 2018.

While the reintroduced bill is a compromise, it’s still a vital resource for survivors of domestic violence, which impacts as many as one in four women in the U.S., according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Domestic violence has been on the rise during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—so this comes at a crucial moment.

In addition to increasing services for survivors, the 2022 VAWA includes improvements to the criminal justice responses, and is the first version of the act to include provisions that help incarcerated women. It is more responsive to diverse populations than previous versions, and invests in prevention and resources for survivors of violence.

Despite these significant improvements, survivors still lack the crucial ability to sue their assailants for gender-based violence in civil court, which would provide some measure of accountability when local officials take no action—which is too often the case. That was the original intent when Congress passed VAWA in 1994—but in 2000, the Rehnquist-led Supreme Court struck down the civil rights provision, saying Congress had no power to pass it.

The Equal Rights Amendment, which is stuck in a tug-of-war with the U.S. archivist and the Senate, would provide the basis for Congress to enact stronger laws on gender violence, including restoring the civil rights remedy in VAWA.

As we’ve been reporting, the ERA is the only amendment in U.S. history that has met all the requirements of Article V of the Constitution, that still has not been certified.

“I spend half my time in Congress fighting to hold on to what we already have, resisting efforts to roll back gains we’ve already made,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). “With women’s rights in the Constitution, we wouldn’t be dependent on who’s in Congress, who’s on the Supreme Court, or who’s in the White House. Our rights would be protected.”

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About

Katherine Spillar is the executive director of Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms., where she oversees editorial content and the Ms. in the Classroom program.