The Violence Against Women Act

What it is and what you can do

The Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994 to establish the Office of Violence Against Women, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, training programs on domestic abuse, and mandatory arrest laws to ensure women are protected from their abusers. These 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.


The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized three times since 1994 with new provisions each time. This Act was last proposed for reauthorization in 2019 with a new provision which would bar convicted abusers from owning guns. This version did not pass because Republicans, receiving significant funding from the NRA, opposed it (Reub and Chokshi). The Act passed with a 263-158 vote in the House of Representatives, but not in the Republican majority Senate (Shabad).


This leaves us with many loopholes in the current Violence Against Women Act. In the status quo, people convicted of only misdemeanor stalking can still own a  gun. Furthermore, people accused of intimate partner violence can still access guns if they are the dating partner of the victim. This is concerning because more than half of intimate partner homicides are committed by dating partners.

Dealing With Opposition

The Democrat View

The Violence Against Women Act was initially proposed by previous Senator Joe Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, in 1994, and has received the most support from Democrats throughout history. The Act was proposed to, in the words of Senator Biden, “make streets safer for women, make homes safer for women, and protect women’s civil rights.” The initial version allowed women to sue their attackers, increased penalties for abuse, created new violations, and enacted mandatory arrest laws. 


In the following years, Democrats proposed re-authorizations of the Violence Against Women Act were with provisions to protect LGBTQ community, strengthen Native American courts, and privide visas to undocumented immigrants. The most recent re-authorization has not yet passed because of the controversial provision preventing convicted abusers from owning guns (Rueb and Chokshi).


The Republican View

When the VAWA was initially proposed, Republicans countered that it was unconstitutional to allow people to sue their attackers in federal court. The Supreme court confirmed this in the early 2000s. As a result, the VAWA was modified and enjoyed nearly universal support from people across the political aisle during the 2005 reauthorization. 


In 2011, Republicans found fault with the new VAWA provisions to protect the LGBTQ community, strengthen Native American courts, and provide visas to undocumented immigrants. Prominent in the opposition to the VAWA was Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who ran for Senate in 2013 on the platform of opposing this law. 


Currently, Senate Republicans, led by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have refused to bring up the most recent reauthorization for a vote due to its gun provisions. Many Republican Senators receive funding from the NRA and do not want to risk losing their support.


Republicans stated that it was unconstitutional to allow people to sue their attackers in federal court, and the Supreme court confirmed this in the early 2000s. Once this argument was addressed, the VAWA was modified and enjoyed nearly universal support (Rueb and Chokshi).


Reaching Common Ground

The Violence Against Women Act’s most recent reauthorization has not passed due to provisions which disallow convicted abusers and stalkers from owning guns. Many Republicans agree with these provisions, but can not openly support it because they receive funding from the NRA. 


This reauthorization disallows those accused of various levels of abuse from owning a gun. To pass at least some of these provisions, the most effective way to compromise would be to draft a new VAWA which only disallows those convicted of abuse on higher counts from owning a gun, enabling our society to achieve some progress rather than freezing deliberations completely.



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©2020 by The Bipartisan Feminist Project.

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