Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center

Violence Against Women Act: 15 Years, Working Together to End Violence

Lindsay Walker, SAPAC Office Assistant and Networking, Publicity, and Activism Volunteer

The recently reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a gradually changing and important bill that has improved sexual and domestic violence prevention and services since 1994, underwent a prolonged path to enactment.  It was supposed to have been reauthorized in 2011, but due to disagreements related to provisions for immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, and Native Americans, this process seemed to move at a glacial pace.  After much effort, on February 12, 2013, the Senate passed S.47, a bill introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (VT), to reauthorize VAWA.  Two weeks later, this bill was passed in the House of Representatives.  Finally, the President signed the bill into law on March 7, 2013.  The bill is reauthorized for another five years, which means that survivors will continue to experience the benefits of VAWA.

Appropriation vs. Authorization

Regarding this seemingly tedious process, there is interesting information on the process of ‘authorization’ versus ‘appropriation’ that is important for considering VAWA’s reauthorization.  Legislation that authorizes is not the finished product of the law.  In order to use the authorized version of VAWA of 2013, which has outlined the new and continued programs to prevent sexual and domestic violence, the appropriations process for the law must agree with the reauthorized law. This means that the House and Senate can set aside money to appropriate to states even without the reauthorization of VAWA. Even though it took legislators a while to reauthorize VAWA, it did not necessarily hinder funding for VAWA recipients. With that in mind, the state can appropriate money and therefore not be eligible for funding for VAWA due to conflict in funding designations.  There is now a call to contact senators who are circulating “Dear Colleague” letters to obtain signatures to support funding for VAWA 2013 as part of the appropriation process.  This will be important in light of the possible negative effect of sequestration on VAWA.

The Reauthorized Version

The new version of the Violence Against Women Act includes beneficial changes for the above-mentioned populations, as well as adjustments to college campus sexual violence prevention plans.  With the passage of VAWA, stalking has been added to a list of crimes that qualify an immigrant to obtain a U-Visa nonimmigrant status in order to receive prosecution services and eligibility to apply for permanent legal residence.  Other provisions offer greater protection for LGBTQ individuals, as it is a group that has historically been left out of protection opportunities through VAWA funding.  Also, prosecution of non-native American perpetrators will now be in the hands of tribal authorities, which will lower crime rates on reservations.

Impact on the University of Michigan and SAPAC

In addition to these updates, college campuses will feel the effect of the Campus SaVE Act, a new addition to VAWA.  This part of the act will have “Institution-wide effects,” according to SAPAC Director, Holly Rider-Milkovich, as the Campus SaVE Act changes policy under the Clery Act.  The Clery Act has long required institutions of higher education to give an annual crime report.  As part of the new changes brought about by the Campus SaVE Act, the University of Michigan will be required to develop audience-tailored training programs for all incoming staff, faculty, and professional, graduate, and undergraduate students by March 2014.  New members of the UM community will receive training on bystander intervention and primary prevention. The changes also call for evidence-based evaluation of these prevention methods. Referring to Relationship Remix first-year workshops, Rider-Milkovich noted, “The requirements set forth by this legislation are an affirmation of the approaches SAPAC has already taken.”  In addition, although the University of Michigan has long reported data from SAPAC on the following types of crimes, the Clery Act will now include domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking as reportable crimes for all higher education institutions that accept federal funding.  Hate crimes based on gender identity, sexual orientation and national origin will also be included, allowing college campuses to pay more attention to crimes that are often silenced.

What Can You Do?

Please consider finding out if your senators and representatives voted ‘yes’ on the senate’s bill and thanking them. You can look up your state’s senators and district’s representatives online.  

Communication with legislators is very valuable to this cause.  As a UM student and volunteer or alumni of SAPAC, one can contribute on an individual level.  Personal stories related to VAWA’s assistance make an impact on legislation.  Consider sending your story to senators and representatives to show how VAWA has directly or indirectly made an impact on your life.  These stories are often included in congressional hearings and can have a direct impact on legislation.

Another important way to stay involved is to stay educated.  In order to stay up-to-date, one can frequently turn to the National Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women’s website for updates, and read briefing papers to become educated on the specific issues for which individuals and organizations are advocating.  Here is an example of one briefing paper that advocates for Native American women’s protection through VAWA.  The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence also has a list of publications, which document the reauthorization process and offer valuable information.

On a personal note from the author of this article, learning about VAWA was a confusing process.  There is still much to learn.  If you feel this way too, please know that you are not alone.  Self-education is an important first step to build the foundation for this information.  After that, do as SAPAC’s Director suggests, and, “Ask hard questions.”  It was enjoyable learning about this important piece of legislation, which continues to have an important impact on ending sexual, domestic, and intimate partner violence on many levels.