ABOVE: U.S. President Joe Biden embraces Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Bill Strengthens Services for Domestic Violence Victims and Survivors of Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Expands Protections for Victims’ and Survivors’ Financial Security
This past week, House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee Chair Sheila Jackson Lee attended the special commemoration of the bill she authored—the Historic Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2022—at the White House, where President Biden signed the bill into law.
Academy Award winning actress Angelina Jolie, who has been a vocal proponent of the reauthorization of the bill, was also on hand for the signing of the bill at the White House.
“Given the rise in domestic violence and sexual assault cases during this COVID-19 crisis, where perpetrators are spending significant amount of time at home with their victims, this landmark, transformative legislation is needed now more than ever,” said Chairwoman Jackson Lee. “The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has improved the criminal justice system’s ability to keep victims safe and hold perpetrators accountable. As a result of this historic legislation, every state has enacted laws making stalking a crime and strengthened criminal rape statutes. But more must be done to reduce and prevent sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking and to promote a coordinated community response in which law enforcement, victim services providers, prosecutors, courts, and others work together in a systemic way.”
This landmark, transformative legislation, which was passed as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act for FY 2022 by a roll call vote of 260-171. This historic legislation that Congresswoman Jackson Lee began leading in 2017, strengthens services for domestic violence victims and survivors of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; and expands protections for victims’ and survivors’ financial security.
“As one who has been engaged in the struggle to protect women from violence and abuse from my service on the Houston Area Women’s Center to my current role as Chair of the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee, I commend my colleagues in the House for major victory today for women’s empowerment and protection,” Congresswoman Jackson Lee continued.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta applauded the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
“Domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking are serious violations of criminal law that demand our sustained attention and action,” said Attorney General Garland. “The Department of Justice welcomes the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and will continue to use the resources at our disposal to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and provide critical services for survivors.”
Key features of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021, which will protect and save lives, include:
Investing in Prevention:
- Increasing the authorization of the Rape Prevention & Education Program (RPE) to $110 million (current authorization $50 million), add sexual harassment to its authorized uses, and add language requiring the involvement of and funding for involvement of Office on Violence Against Women-recognized sexual assault coalitions in RPE planning and implementation.
- Ensuring meaningful involvement of state sexual assault coalitions and culturally specific organizations in the RPE grant making process.
- Increasing funding for VAWA Consolidated Youth grants to provide prevention education that engages men and boys as allies and promotes healthy relationships is key to reducing gender-based violence.
- Expanding Access:
- Increase access to grant programs for culturally specific organizations and ensure culturally specific organizations are included in the development and implementation of service, education, training, and other grants.
- Substantially increases authorized funding for culturally specific organizations. Establish a Deputy Director of Culturally Specific Communities in the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).
- Ensures that underserved populations are not precluded from accessing grants due to the population they serve while allowing OVW to periodically prioritize certain underserved populations.
- Promotes safety for victims of violence on tribal lands by: clarifying that tribal courts can hold domestic violence offenders who assault tribal police officers or other justice officials accountable; ensuring non-Indian perpetrators who commit sexual assault, stalking, child abuse, or trafficking on tribal lands are held accountable; creating a permanent authorization for Justice Department’s Tribal Access to National Crime Information Program; improving the response to cases of missing and murdered women in tribal communities; and addressing the unique barriers to safety for Alaska Native women.
- Increases the authorization for the Sexual Assault Services Program to $60 million to address increased demand and waiting lists for services. Increase parity for sexual assault funding.
- Requires applicants for the National Resource Center on Workplace Responses to include in their applications a plan to enhance survivors’ capacity to obtain and maintain employment with a focus on culturally specific organizations and organizations that serve populations who are marginalized in the workplace.
- Provides funding to train healthcare providers to better prevent, recognize, and respond to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking across the lifespan, particularly through programs such as the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program. Ensure training includes prevention and cultural competence, is culturally relevant, includes systemic racism and equity, and includes the impact of inter-generational violence.
- Increases access to high quality legal assistance by stipulating that legal assistance requires the involvement of a licensed attorney, an immigration-accredited representative, or a person who functions as an attorney or lay attorney in Tribal court and clarifying throughout that victim services include legal assistance.
- Removing Barriers:
- Ensures compliance with VAWA non-discrimination requirements and guarantee equal access to VAWA protections for all victims regardless of gender, especially those from marginalized communities.
- Enforces housing rights for survivors/victims; create a position at HUD specifically tasked with this work; increase survivors’ options to maintain housing or break their leases; strengthen emergency transfer protections in federal housing programs and create a Victim Relocation Voucher pool to assist survivors needing to flee their homes due to safety concerns; and improve the homeless system response to survivors.