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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Violence Against Women Act: Overview, Legislation, and Federal Funding

Lisa N. Sacco
Analyst in Illicit Drugs and Crime Policy

In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA, P.L. 103-322). The act was intended to change attitudes toward domestic violence, foster awareness of domestic violence, improve services and provisions for victims, and revise the manner in which the criminal justice system responds to domestic violence and sex crimes. The legislation created new programs within the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services that aimed to reduce domestic violence and improve response to and recovery from domestic violence incidents. VAWA primarily addresses certain types of violent crime through grant programs to state, tribal, and local governments; nonprofit organizations; and universities. VAWA programs target the crimes of intimate partner violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

In 1995, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) was created administratively within the Department of Justice to administer federal grants authorized under VAWA. In 2002, Congress codified the OVW as a separate office within the Department of Justice (DOJ). Since its creation, the OVW has awarded more than $4.7 billion in grants. While the OVW administers the majority of VAWA authorized grants, other federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of Justice Programs, also manage VAWA grants.

Since 1994, VAWA has been modified and reauthorized several times. In 2000, Congress reauthorized the programs under VAWA, enhanced federal domestic violence and stalking penalties, added protections for abused foreign nationals, and created programs for elderly and disabled women. In 2005, Congress again reauthorized VAWA. In addition to reauthorizing the programs under VAWA, the legislation enhanced penalties for repeat stalking offenders; added additional protections for battered and trafficked foreign nationals; and created programs for sexual assault victims and American Indian victims of domestic violence and related crimes; and created programs designed to improve the public health response to domestic violence.

Authorization for appropriations for the programs under VAWA expired in 2011. VAWA programs are currently unauthorized; however, programs have continued to receive appropriations. In the 112
th Congress, bills (S. 1925 and H.R. 4970) were passed in each chamber that would have reauthorized most of the programs under VAWA, among other things. H.R. 4970 differed in substantive ways from S. 1925, including with respect to the VAWA-related immigration provisions, the authority it would have given Indian tribes to enforce domestic violence and related crimes against non-Indian individuals, and in the populations it would have included under its definition of underserved population. Neither bill was enacted into law. Selected issues with these bills are discussed in Appendix B.

In the 113
th Congress, two bills (H.R. 11 and S. 47) have been introduced that would reauthorize most of the programs under VAWA, among other things. On February 12, 2013, the Senate passed S. 47 as amended. The Senate amended S. 47 so the bill would amend and authorize appropriations for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, enhance measures to combat trafficking in persons, and amend VAWA grant purpose areas to include sex trafficking. Aside from these amendments, S. 47 and H.R. 11 are similar. A description of these bills is provided in this report.

H.R. 11 and S. 47 contain many of the same provisions that were in reauthorization bills from the 112
th Congress. These bills would reauthorize most VAWA grant programs and authorize appropriations at a lower level. Like S. 1925, these bills propose new provisions for certain populations such as American Indian tribes. Both bills would grant authority to Indian tribes to enforce domestic violence and related crimes against non-Indian individuals.

H.R. 11 and S. 47 also differ from reauthorization bills from the 112
th Congress. The 113th bills include new provisions to address the rape kit backlog by amending the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-546). As mentioned, S. 47 now includes provisions that would address trafficking in persons. Additionally, some items that had been included in reauthorization bills from the 112th Congress are not included in H.R. 11 and S. 47, such as the proposal (in S. 1925 only) to temporarily increase the cap on the number of U visas available for abused foreign nationals (from 10,000 to 15,000). These issues and others are discussed in this report.

Date of Report: February 19, 2013
Number of Pages: 44
Order Number: R42499
Price: $29.95

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