In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in order to combat rape and domestic violence. Although VAWA has driven the development of the law enforcement infrastructure needed to address these serious social issues, VAWA does very little to actually prevent domestic abuse.
While allies of VAWA point to a slew of statistics from before and after the landmark piece of legislation went into effect, these numbers also tell a story of failure. Looking at the National Domestic Violence Hotline established under VAWA, for example, the hotline receives around 22,000 calls a month with a lifetime total topping 3 million, but the fact 92% of those calls are first-time callers suggests the abused are not calling back, because they are not finding the help they need.
According to the United States Department of Justice:
The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) currently administers 24 grant programs authorized by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 and subsequent legislation. Four programs are “formula,” meaning the enacting legislation specifies how the funds are to be distributed. The remaining 20 programs, including six formerly authorized programs that still have open and/or active grants, are “discretionary,” meaning OVW is responsible for creating program parameters, qualifications, eligibility, and deliverables in accordance with authorizing legislation. These grant programs are designed to develop the nation’s capacity to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking by strengthening services to victims and holding offenders accountable.
Of more than a half-billion dollar budget for VAWA, only somewhere around 35 million dollars, or 2.5%, goes toward transitional housing programs. In contrast, the largest single allocation of somewhere around 195 million dollars goes to so-called STOP Grants to Combat Violence Against Women,” which are largely dedicated to awareness training.
Title 42 of the US Code § 13975, SubPart 4 of Safe Homes for Women, the Transitional housing assistance grants for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, states:
The transitional housing program awarded grants to operate new or existing transitional housing, which can include utilities payment assistance, security deposit assistance and other costs incidental to relocation to a transitional housing program or to locate and secure permanent housing, secure employment, which includes obtaining employment counseling, occupational training job retention counseling and counseling concerning re-entry in to the workforce. This program also includes services such as transportation, counseling, childcare services, case management and other assistance. Thirty-five million dollars was earmarked for this program each year from 2014 through 2018. The minimum amount being .75% of the total amount appropriated in the fiscal year, Indian tribes receive no less than ten percent.
Although thirty-five million dollars seems adequate, it falls considerably short of achieving the goals outlined under the program. Thirty-five million, spread over fifty states does not begin to adequately fund the vital programs that victims of domestic violence so desperately need. Considering the amount of funding offered to other program, what it does is demonstrate VAWA needs its priorities adjusted
In many respects, VAWA provides a band-aid approach that does little to nothing to help victims leave their abusers. The focus of VAWA is largely on increasing awareness and the legal prosecution of abusers, not saving the abused. A better approach would be to implement tangible programs that strengthen and encourage a victim to leave an unhealthy, abusive relationship before the next punch.
This article was written in cooperation with Myra Spearman, Founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Violence Registry, Inc.