U.S. Congress Passes Renewal, Expansion of Violence Against Women Act

February 28, 2013
By Thomas M. Huguenor on February 28, 2013 4:59 PM |

OneBillionRising.FarragutSquare.WDC._14February2013-oldwomen.jpgThe U.S. House of Representatives passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on February 28, 2013, ending months of wrangling over various expanded terms included in the reauthorization of the law passed by the Senate. First enacted in 1994, VAWA provides federal funding to support investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, including domestic violence, and by allowing civil claims by victims of violent crimes. The reauthorized version, which will now go to the president for his signature, includes expanded protections for Native American, immigrant, and LGBT populations.

Domestic violence is a tragic and unnecessary occurrence in divorce. A simple search on the web of words like "divorce" will quickly lead to news stories of domestic violence incidents, some fatal. While domestic violence can affect anyone, the common perception is of men or husbands as the perpetrators. We condemn all domestic violence, and we support efforts at prevention and support of victims.

Then-Senator Joseph Biden drafted the original VAWA bill. It passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support, and was signed into law by President Clinton on September 13, 1994. Congress has reauthorized it twice before this year, in 2000 and 2005. The White House claimed earlier this year that domestic violence rates decreased by sixty-seven percent between 1993 and 2010, and that more victims are willing to report assaults. VAWA created the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) in the Department of Justice, which assists communities in creating policies and programs to combat "domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking." It also administers grant programs that support local governments, nonprofit and community organizations, and schools that are developing programs to assist victims and improve law enforcement.

VAWA also imposed mandatory restitution on defendants upon conviction for domestic violence, and it gives victims a chance to pursue civil claims if prosecutors do not pursue the case. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the law that allowed women to sue their assailants in federal court, finding that Congress lacked the authority under the Commerce Clause and Sec. 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to confer federal jurisdiction over what would otherwise be a state court claim. U.S. v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 627 (2000).

The VAWA reauthorization passed the U.S. House on February 28, with 199 Democrats and 87 Republicans voting for it. The Senate version of the bill had passed on February 12 by a vote of 78 to 22. It includes the SAFER Act, which provides funds to local law enforcement agencies to help clear backlogs of rape kit testing. The VAWA bill extends protections to three groups that had not previously been covered, including Native American women who are allegedly assaulted by non-Native Americans on tribal land. Federal law prevents tribal courts from prosecuting an alleged offender under those circumstances, but the new VAWA bill expands tribal courts’ jurisdiction. The bill also extends protections to LGBT individuals and immigrants.

Thomas Huguenor is a domestic violence attorney certified by the State of California. For more than 35 years, he has represented people in San Diego finding their way through the California divorce process. Contact us today online or at (858) 458-9500 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Domestic Violence and Divorce Cases in San Diego, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, November 8, 2012

California Bill Would Prevent Convicted Abusers from Receiving Spousal Maintenance, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, March 22, 2012

Senate Democrats Push for Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, March 19, 2012

Photo credit: By Elvert Barnes [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.