Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a landmark piece of legislation that sought to improve criminal legal and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the United States.

The passage of VAWA in 1994 and its reauthorization in 2000, 2005, 2013, and 2022 have changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. Survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking have been able to access services, and a new generation of families, professionals, and politicians have come to understand that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking require immediate intervention.

The History of the Violence Against Women Act


Congress first passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, envisioning a nation with an engaged criminal legal system and coordinated community responses to domestic violence. VAWA 1994 dedicated resources to fostering:

  • Community-coordinated responses that, for the first time, brought together representatives from the criminal legal system, the social services system, and private nonprofit organizations responding to domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • Recognition and support for domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, and other community organizations working nationwide to end domestic violence.
  • Federal prosecution of interstate domestic violence and sexual assault crimes.
  • Federal guarantees of interstate enforcement for protection orders.
  • Protections for battered women without citizenship status.
  • A new focus on underserved populations and Native American survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Congress improved on the foundation first established in 1994 by reauthorizing VAWA in 2000, including additions to:

  • Identify dating violence and stalking as related crimes.
  • Create a much-needed legal assistance program for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • Promote supervised visitation programs for families experiencing abuse.
  • Further protect immigrants experiencing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking by establishing U and T visas and focusing on victims of trafficking.

Congress took a more holistic approach to addressing violence against women in 2005. In addition to enhancing criminal, civil, and community-based responses to violence, the 2005 reauthorization of VAWA created notable new focus areas including:

  • Provisions exclusively aimed at protecting immigrant victims of domestic violence, as well as protections to alleviate violence against immigrant women.
  • Prevention strategies to stop violence before it starts.
  • Protections from unfair eviction due to one’s status as a victim of domestic violence or stalking.
  • The first federal funding stream to support rape crisis centers.
  • Culturally and linguistically specific services for various communities.
  • Enhanced programs and services for victims with disabilities.
  • Expansions to VAWA service provisions to include children and teenagers.

President Barack Obama reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, with new provisions extending protections for Native Americans and LGBTQ+ people. These provisions included designated resources to:

  • Assist law enforcement in investigating cases of rape.
  • Give colleges more tools to educate students about dating violence and sexual assault.
  • Empower tribal courts to prosecute people who commit domestic violence on tribal lands, regardless of whether the aggressor is a member of the tribe.
  • Continue allowing relief for immigrant victims of domestic violence.
  • Provide further care and assistance for LGBTQ+ survivors.

President Biden reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act of 2022 in the fiscal year 2022 omnibus spending package on March 15, 2022. The bipartisan bill includes important provisions that strengthen existing law including:

  • Increased authorization funding levels for housing supports, legal assistance, alternatives to criminal responses and prevention programming
  • A restoration of tribal jurisdiction, allowing tribes to hold non-Native perpetrators accountable for sexual assault, child abuse, stalking, sex trafficking, and assaults on tribal law enforcement
  • Expanded access to emergency and short-term housing protections for survivors, a protected right to report crime and emergencies from one’s home, a prohibition on retaliation, and a position at HUD to focus on VAWA implementation
  • Increased investments in culturally specific programs, services, and responses including a new community-based pilot program to support training and programs to provide non-carceral accountability for survivors, and established a Senior Policy Advisor for Culturally Specific Communities position within OVW and OJP
  • Improved health responses to gender-based violence by increasing training for sexual assault forensic examiners in higher education, strengthening grant programs that allow health care systems to respond to victims of sexual violence, and directing HHS, the CDC, and the Indian Health Service to study the intersection of gender-based violence and maternal mortality.
  • Improved prevention and response to sexual assault by increased support to the Rape Prevention and Education Program (RPE) and the Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP) as well as enactment of the Fairness for Rape Kit Backlog Survivors Act.
  • Strengthened protections for victims of cybercrimes by supporting State, Tribal, and local governments to improve enforcement of these crimes and creating the National Resource Center on Cybercrimes Against Individuals as well as a civil right of action for individuals whose intimate virtual images are shared without their consent