Congress Finally Reauthorizes VAWA After Years of Republican Stalling

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Kathy Sherlock, whose 7-year-old daughter Kayden was killed by her ex-partner, and the namesake of Kayden’s Law in Pennsylvania which was also added to the federal Violence Against Women Act, gets a hug from President Joe Biden at the White House on March 16. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

This week, we celebrated the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was included with the fiscal year appropriations package approved by Congress. VAWA is a crucial support for women across the country experiencing violence, more so than ever in this current moment. The COVID-19 pandemic, with its economic stressors and repeated lockdowns, has compounded domestic violence problems, leading advocates to name it a “shadow pandemic.”

This year’s VAWA renewal also includes several crucial improvements upon past versions of the legislation, thanks largely to hardworking feminists in Congress including Reps. Jackie Speier (D-N.Y.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.). These changes include a closure of a law enforcement consent loophole; it will now be a crime for officers to have sex with anyone in their custody, regardless of consent. The reauthorization also includes provisions intended to collect data that will help address sexual violence on college campuses; as well as Kayden’s Law, which will help protect at-risk children in custody battles.

“The VAWA Reauthorization Act of 2022 will expand prevention efforts and protections for survivors, including those from underserved communities, and will provide increased resources and training for law enforcement and our judicial system,” Biden said last month when the bill was introduced. “It will strengthen rape prevention and education efforts, support rape crisis centers, improve the training of sexual assault forensic examiners, and broaden access to legal services for all survivors, among other things.”

“No one, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should experience abuse. Period. And if they do they should have the service and support to get through it, and we’re not going to rest,” the president said at a Wednesday event celebrating the bill’s passage.

Initially passed in 1994, thanks in large part to the efforts of then-Senator Joe Biden, VAWA was a watershed moment in the fight against gendered violence—including the first federal criminal laws against battering, as well as vital funding for survivor support services.

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The Obama administration’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. (Wikimedia Commons)

Since its initial passage, the act has been reauthorized multiple times—in 2000, 2005 and 2013, with increased protections for vulnerable communities, including women of color, LGBTQ+ people and immigrant women. While it was due for reauthorization once again in 2019, it was blocked due to Republican stonewalling. The current reauthorization will last until 2027. 

Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta shooting that took eight lives, including six Asian women. In the year since this horrible hate crime took place, Asian and Asian American women have continued to face widespread racialized and gendered violence across the U.S., from the subways in New York City to the streets of San Francisco. 

Writing in Ms. this week, psychology professor Anne Saw emphasized the compounding nature of bearing witness to these events, as an Asian American woman: “The news cycle has moved on—but I refuse to,” she writes. “Each time I see a picture of the latest Asian American woman victim, I see a family member, a friend. I see me.”

To the women across the U.S. who continue to experience and bear witness to this violence on a regular basis: We see you, and you are not alone. 

If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence, know that help is available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to help at ​​800.799.SAFE (7233) or thehotline.org.

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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.