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September 26, 2014

Violence Against Women Act at 20

VAWAThis month marks the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”). As initially passed, the Act aimed at targeted and addressing crime that disproportionately impacted women by providing federal money for investigation and prosecution of these violent crimes and imposing automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted. In the twenty years since its passage, VAWA’s focus has expanded to capture a broader and more comprehensive segment of violence that disproportionately victimizes women. In past reauthorizations, the bill was broadened to include not just domestic violence and sexual assault but also dating violence and stalking. It now also funds services to protect adult and teen victims of these crimes, and supports training on these issues, to encourage consistent responses across the country and culturally competent treatment of survivors.

Then last year, in a crucial victory for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, Congress reauthorized a version of VAWA that included significant nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community. VAWA now contains a nondiscrimination clause that prohibits LGBT victims from being turned away from services (like traditional shelters) on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Further, it explicitly names LGBT people as an underserved population. By doing so, it allows organizations serving LGBT victims of domestic violence to receive funding from a grant program that focuses specifically on underserved populations. And it now allows states to use certain grant funds to improve responses to incidents of domestic violence among LGBT people. Although these grants are discretionary, this is a huge step for LGBT victims who will now be able to seek help and services without the fear of being turned away.

This incredibly important shift recognizes the elevated risks of LGBT people to intimate partner violence (IPV). Despite the fact that nearly half of IPV homicide victims are gay men, and transgender people, people of color, gay men and people under 30 remain most impacted by IPV, few LGBT IPV survivors access vital victim support services. Given the heightened vulnerability of LGBT people to this violence, the protections added in the 2013 reauthorization of VAWA will provide the critical tools needed to continue to make resources accessible to all survivors, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Twenty years after its passage, VAWA continues to be strengthened so it can remain one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed to protect survivors of violence.

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