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What We May Lose

Two acts ensuring safety for people affected by domestic violence and abuse may soon disappear.

By News

Illustration by Ishita Dharap.

Two acts that support the fabric of domestic violence policies in the United States face the possibility of expiration: the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA). Both include government programs and laws dedicated to ensuring safety for people affected by domestic violence and abuse. VAWA will expire on December 7th unless it is renewed by the Trump administration.

As defined by the Chicago Housing Authority, “The Violence Against Women Act provides protections for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. These protections are available to all individuals regardless of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

The Violence Against Women Act was written by then-Senator Joe Biden in 1993 and authorized one year later by President Bill Clinton. This bill arrived just three years after Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas. VAWA was the first piece of federal legislation to include direct laws and policies against battery in domestic cases. Katharine Baker, professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, told the Chicago Tribune that this act set a baseline for building policies around sexual assault and violence.

VAWA is a multifaceted policy package that includes laws and 25 government-sponsored grant programs that ensure safety for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. VAWA must be reauthorized every five years. In 2012, for example, the act was allowed to expire and was brought back in 2013 after a legislative battle between senate Democrats and Republicans. The act was set to expire on September 30th, but  President Trump extended its deadline to December 7th as part of a larger government spending bill. The next review of this act will determine whether or not it will survive the Trump administration.

The most recent iteration of VAWA includes reinforcements for police training on how to handle sexual assault and domestic violence cases, as well as additional backup tools for officers to remove firearms from confirmed domestic abusers. VAWA also includes the Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE), a 2013 addition by the Obama administration that covers rape-prevention tactics and educational requirements on assault and harassment for all colleges and universities.

According to Bureau of Justice statistics, intimate partner violence declined by 53% and 54%, respectively, from 1993 to 2008.  Since its establishment in 1994, the act has provided nearly $4 billion in funding towards investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against victims of intimate partner violence, and granted over $440 million to law enforcement training programs geared towards prevention of these crimes.

On the local level, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ensures that the Chicago Housing Authority complies with VAWA regulations. The Violence Against Women Act guarantees continued housing to anyone who has applied for this program and qualified as a victim of domestic violence, dating violence or abuse. It also states that victims may not be denied or have their assistance terminated if any family member or child in their household has been a victim of domestic violence.

If VAWA expires in December, legislation that the act supported may face drastic changes. The expiration would defund all VAWA-sponsored grant programs such as SaVE. Colleges and Universities would no longer be required to submit statistics of on-campus assaults and violence or educate students and faculty on school policies and procedures related to assault.

The government would no longer offer funding to survivors of sexual violence for the prosecution of these crimes. This funding covers forensic testing as well as training for sexual assault nurse examiners. Without funding, survivors would have to pay between $500 and $1200 out of pocket for these services.

The expiration would also make it harder for survivors of domestic abuse who reside in public housing to ensure their own safety, since VAWA enforces legal policies that require fair treatment of victims from their landlords. Victims involved in cases of assault or domestic violence could be denied housing because of their association with the crimes, if their state’s government has not not developed its own laws for these issues.

Law enforcement agencies could lose funding for domestic violence training programs as well as their tools to de-arm domestic abusers. General public education and awareness programs funded by this act would lose government funding and have to continue through organizers who choose to support them.

There are legislative backups under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) that will still give some support to victims if the act does expire in December. FVPSA, created in 1984 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, created services such as the Domestic Violence Hotline and focuses on local legislations that help recovery for victims of domestic abuse. FVPSA was re-authorized by the House in September after remaining expired since 2015. Unlike the VAWA, it does not have the potential to expire on December 7th, and its reauthorization will last through 2023. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), FVPSA is the only federal funding source dedicated to domestic violence shelters and programs, so if VAWA does end up expiring, these recovery organizations will still exist.

Despite that, VAWA’s expiration would still threaten many of  the resources that survivors of domestic assault, violence, and sexual assault need to prosecute their abusers and seek asylum. Lobbyists and supporters of the Domestic Violence Hotline, a program closely knit to VAWA, are currently working to push congress to prioritize the review and renewal of the act. VAWA is up for expiration on December 7, 2018, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

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