Joyful Heart in the News

Congress must reauthorize VAWA now

March 15th, 2012
The Hill
Mariska Hargitay and Terri Poore

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a landmark in the movement to end violence against women and girls, is up for re-authorization. Authored by then-Senator Joseph Biden and signed into law in 1994, VAWA revolutionized the way violent crimes against women are prosecuted and prevented, and the way communities respond to survivors.

The act created the first federal legislation acknowledging domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes. VAWA created the first federal funding stream to support rape crisis centers across the country. It provided federal resources to encourage community-coordinated responses to combating violence. And it provided $1.6 billion in its first five years to enhance investigation and prosecution of violent crimes perpetrated against women.

Subsequent reauthorizations in 2000 and 2005, with widespread support in both houses, created a legal assistance program for victims, broadened the definition of violence against women to include dating violence and stalking, implemented culturally- and linguistically-specific services for communities and broadened VAWA service provisions to include children and teenagers.

VAWA has improved, protected, restored and saved lives. The time has come once again to move this crucial legislation forward.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, S. 1925, introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), is the result of more than two years of work by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, a coalition of over 300 advocacy groups that includes the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and the Joyful Heart Foundation. Contributing their voices, experience and expertise, over 2,000 advocates from across the country worked to identify the most pressing needs of survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. S. 1925 is the version of VAWA that advocates support. While some Members of Congress have offered other versions of VAWA, only S. 1925 protects all survivors.

S. 1925 provides for enhanced training for law enforcement, court personnel, and victim service providers in preventing domestic violence homicides. It fortifies criminal justice responses to sexual assault, laying the groundwork for strong cases that result in successful prosecution. S. 1925 will also support schools, youth organizations, domestic violence agencies and rape crisis centers to engage young people in preventing violence before it starts.

The bill includes funding for VAWA’s criminal justice grant programs to develop and strengthen Sexual Assault Response Teams and Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner programs. The legislation also provides funding for programs addressing rape kit backlogs, the hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in storage facilities across the country that represent missed opportunities for justice and sexual violence prevention.

VAWA’s sponsors, along with House and Senate staff and victim advocates from across the country, have consolidated its existing programs and strengthened accountability measures in all grant programs to ensure that the legislation is cost-effective.

Reauthorizing VAWA sends the message that survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking must have the tools to heal and reclaim their lives; that women and girls, our communities and our families, must be safe; that the next generation must be engaged in this effort—and that the evolution of our collective thinking on how to break the cycle of violence is a national priority. To send any other message is unconscionable.

Congress must act swiftly. Renew VAWA now.


Mariska Hargitay, star of NBC’S  highly successful 14 season  series, Special Victims Unit / Law and Order, is also founder and president of the Joyful Heart Foundation. Poore is policy chair at the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence..

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