A few weeks ago, the future of Violence Against Women Act looked uncertain as the landmark 1994 legislation was set to expire at the end of September. Organizations in New York City that receive funding under the law were tense until Sept. 13, when a stopgap spending bill allowed funding under VAWA until Dec. 7.
“We are relieved that VAWA will likely be extended through Dec. 7, and our work will continue on in the meantime uninterrupted,” said Nora Moran, policy director at Safe Horizon, the largest victim services non-profit organization in the United States that provides social services for victims of abuse and violent crime in 57 locations across New York City.
“Personally, I’m not surprised that it’s an extension bill,” said Christopher Bromson, executive director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center, a non-profit organization in New York that provides services to survivors of violent crime. “I think we were all kind of expecting that to be the case.”
Advocates were hoping for re-authorization. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018 was introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and 161 other Democrats in July without a single Republican co-sponsor.
As September wound down, 46 Republican Congressmen led by New Yorkers John Katko and Elise Stefanik wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan urging him to introduce the reauthorization bill for voting. At the same time, Republicans Rep. John Faso, Stefanik and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania introduced the Violence Against Women Extension Act on Sept. 13 that would allow VAWA to be extended till March 31, 2019. Neither of the two bills were put up for a vote.
VAWA has been instrumental in providing relief to survivors of domestic and sexual violence across the country, advocates say. Social organizations, law enforcement and district attorney offices dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault in New York City received more $2 million in funding in 2017, according to a report on criminaljustice.ny.gov. Family Justice Centers, which are also funded by the law, received more than 62,645 client visits in 2017, according to 2017 Annual Factsheet of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.
According to NYC Open Data and 2017 Annual Factsheet of Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, a total of 108,821 cases of intimate partner related domestic incidents were reported to the New York police in 2017. Out of those, 8010 cases were felony assaults by intimate partners, including 26 homicides.
Though its name only mentions women, the law actually encompasses all genders. Since its inception, it has been reauthorized three times with bipartisan support – in 2000, 2005 and 2013. The last time it lapsed was in 2011 but the programs supported under the act survived with temporary funding till 2013, when it was reauthorized.
On Sept. 13, the 24th anniversary of the law’s passage, politicians and activists politicians hailed its benefits. “For 24 years, the Violence Against Women Act has provided survivors, victims & communities the resources to seek justice & receive care in the wake of violence & abuse,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader. A tweet from the official handle of the National Domestic Violence Hotline read: “Happy Birthday, #VAWA!! And we wish you many, many, many more. #VAWA4All”
In a separate tweet, the hotline urged lawmakers to reauthorize the law: “24 years ago the Violence Against Women Act (#VAWA) was signed into law. It’s important that Congress reauthorize this life-saving legislation and show that they support the 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men who will experience abuse in their lifetime.”
The Office on Violence Against Women was created in 1994 as a branch of Department of Justice to oversee the implementation of the law. According to its website, it currently administers 25 grant programs including four formula grants (specified in legislation) and 15 discretionary grants. According to a 2018 appropriations report on the website of The National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Office on Violence Against Women received a total of $492 million of federal funding to support grant programs. The law “allows programs to be pretty innovative. …So, for example, we have a VAWA grant to increase services to the deaf and hard of hearing community,” said Bromson. “It also supports our sexual assault forensic examiner program.”
The National Network to End Domestic Violence welcomed the extension of the law but expressed disappointment that Congress failed to reauthorize the bill. “Congress missed an historic opportunity to show the world that it prioritizes combating violence against women,” said Kim Gandy, the organization’s president and CEO in a statement. “Now, more than ever, our nation is looking to Congress to support survivors.”
Advocacy groups say their work will continue thanks to the extension of the law. “We would have preferred to see a full reauthorization pass instead, but there is still time for VAWA to be reauthorized,” said Moran.
“It [VAWA] funds so many programs across the city that it is really important. And so, I think we’re all sitting with a mixture of relief and frustration,” said Bromson.