The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a United States federal law. It was passed as Title IV, sec. 40001-40703 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 HR 3355 and signed as Public Law 103-322 by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994. It provided $1.6 billion to enhance investigation and prosecution of violent crimes perpetrated against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted.

VAWA was drafted by then-U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden's office with support from a number of advocacy organizations including National Coalition Against Sexual Assault, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Legal Momentum and The National Organization for Women, which described the bill as "the greatest breakthrough in civil rights for women in nearly two decades."[1]

VAWA was reauthorized by Congress in 2000, and again in December 2005.[2]

The Office on Violence Against Women was statutorily established within the United States Department of Justice following the passage of the reauthorization of VAWA in 2000. It has the authority to administer the grants authorized under VAWA, as well as develop federal policy around issues relating to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The Office is led by a Director whose appointment has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

VAWA will be up for reauthorization in 2011.


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 policy and human rights concern.

The Violence Against Women Act was developed and passed as a result of extensive grassroots efforts in the early 1990s, with professionals from the victim services field, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors' offices, the courts, and the private bar urging Congress to adopt significant legislation to address domestic violence. Since its original passage in 1994, VAWA's focus has expanded to address—in addition to domestic violence—dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It funds services to protect adult, teen, and child victims of these crimes, and supports training on these issues, to ensure consistent responses across the country. One of the greatest successes of VAWA is its emphasis on a coordinated community response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; courts, law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services, and the private bar currently work together in a coordinated effort that had not heretofore existed on the state and local levels. VAWA also supports the work of community-based organizations that are engaged in work to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, particularly those groups that provide culturally and linguistically specific services. Additionally, VAWA provides specific support for work with tribes and tribal organizations to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking against Indian women.

Many grant programs authorized in VAWA have been funded by the U.S. Congress. The following grant programs, which are administered primarily through the Office on Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice have received appropriations from Congress:

STOP Grants (State Formula Grants); Transitional Housing Grants; Grants to Encourage Arrest and Enforce Protection Orders; Court Training and Improvement Grants; Research on Violence Against Indian Women; National Tribal Sex Offender Registry; Stalker Reduction Database; Federal Victim Assistants; Sexual Assault Services Program; Services for Rural Victims; Civil Legal Assistance for Victims; Elder Abuse Grant Program; Protections and Services for Disabled Victims; Combating Abuse in Public Housing; National Resource Center on Workplace Responses; Violence on College Campuses Grants; Safe Havens Project; Services for Children and Youth Exposed to Violence; Engaging Men and Youth in Prevention.

Debate and legal standing

The American Civil Liberties Union had originally expressed concerns about the Act, saying that the increased penalties were rash, the increased pretrial detention was "repugnant" to the US Constitution, the mandatory HIV testing of those only charged but not convicted is an infringement of a citizen’s right to privacy and the edict for automatic payment of full restitution was non-judicious (see their paper: "Analysis of Major Civil Liberties Abuses in the Crime Bill Conference Report as Passed by the House and the Senate", dated September 29, 1994). However, the ACLU has supported reauthorization of VAWA on the condition that the "unconstitutional DNA provision" be removed.[3]

The ACLU, in their July 27, 2005 'Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, S. 1197' stated that "VAWA is one of the most effective pieces of legislation enacted to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It has dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women and has provided critical services necessary to support women and children in their struggle to overcome abusive situations."[4]

In 2000, in a controversial 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court of the United States held part of VAWA unconstitutional in United States v. Morrison on federalism grounds. Only the civil rights remedy of VAWA was struck down. The provisions providing program funding were unaffected.[5]

See also


  1. "VIOLENCE FORUM: Things to do Now to Stop Violence against Women". National Council for Research on Women. December 16, 2008.
  2. Template:Cite press
  3. "Tell Congress to Support the Violence Against Women Act". American Civil Liberties Union.
  4. "ACLU Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, S. 1197". ACLU. July 27, 2005.
  5. See: United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 627; "For these reasons, we conclude that Congress' power under § 5 does not extend to the enactment of § 13981.... The judgment of the Court of Appeals is Affirmed."

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