The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has dramatically changed the way victim services and the criminal justice system respond to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. VAWA has saved thousands of lives since it was signed into law in 1994 and currently provides over 800 state and local agencies and service providers with the necessary resources to support survivors, hold offenders accountable and keep communities safe. VAWA provides a foundation for survivor safety, which needs to be strengthened and expanded to better address safety in the context of economic security. Physical, sexual and economic abuse often result in interrupted employment, increased medical bills, damaged credit, accumulated debt and lack of adequate housing. These financial factors impact the decision to leave an abusive situation, the ability to remain free or recover from violence, and the capacity to access the services required to transition from victim to survivor.
One prosecutor shared how the victim’s economic safety impacted the outcome of two domestic violence cases. In the first case, the victim lied about the abuse and induced her children to lie because she was financially dependent on her abuser and feared her family would become destitute if he went to jail. The state lost that case. In another case, a survivor even more financially dependent on her abuser immediately received critical services and was able to find a place to live, start community college and obtain financial support to plan for the future. The prosecutor credited the survivor’s ability to give honest testimony to her attaining some sense of economic security prior to the trial, which resulted in a successful conviction.
Survivor safety and economic security is critical for everyone, but in the past has been somewhat overlooked for survivors from underserved populations who already face unique economic barriers. As presently written, VAWA fails to provide adequate support to two special populations: Tribal and LGBTQ survivors. While rates of violence against women are similar for most populations, Native American women report rates 3.5 times higher than the national average. Due to the complexity of laws governing Tribes, it is difficult to arrest and prosecute perpetrators, 86 percent of whom are non-Native and therefore outside tribal jurisdiction. While LGBTQ individuals experience violence at the same rate as the rest of the population, they do not receive the same supports or legal protections. Because most states do not recognize LGBTQ relationships, many laws addressing domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking cannot aid gay or transgender victims. Additionally, many of the support systems for survivors are not LGBTQ-friendly, leaving these survivors with few options.
VAWA is essential to the safety of survivors and needs to be reinforced to ensure that all survivors of violence are protected. We urge you to join WOW in supporting the reauthorization of VAWA and promoting the economic security of survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and stalking.