September 13th of this year, marked the 15th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) penned by then – U.S. Senator, Joseph Biden and signed into federal law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. In 1995, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) was created as part of the US Department of Justice, in order to address the national issues of violence against women and to administer grants under the VAWA in addition to working towards the creation and implication of new policies to combat gender violence. The VAWA was the result of much hard work by activists and advocates over the course of thirty years – a small group of individuals who were and are committed to shedding light on the reality and severity of sexual, domestic and dating violence and the need for this specialized legislation.
Why do we need VAWA?
Thanks to VAWA, financial support has made its way to shelters and coalitions nationwide who provide services to victims of gender violence and there have been positive changes in the way law enforcement officials and members of the legal system handle these crimes and work with crime victims. Attitudes about sexual and domestic violence have changed over the years, with more and more attention being brought to these important issues. However, there is still much damage to be undone, and many mindsets to be reversed. Years ago, and even today, many do not recognize crimes such as marital/ spousal rape, with domestic violence and assault once being considered something to be dealt within the family and/ or home. The prevalence of child abuse and sexual assault of, and between minors is now being looked at more seriously, with more focus on recognizing the signs and educating the entire community. Dating violence and crimes such as “date” or “acquaintance” rape are still often ignored and not taken seriously. Cultural differences, such as those in tribal communities have shown a need for change in the way these crimes are handled. The long and short term effects of all of these violations are devastating and real. As far as we have come, there is still much work to be done.
The VAWA aids financially and otherwise to strengthen areas of the judicial, legislative and support services community, in areas such as (but far from limited to):
- Sex offender registries
- Stalker databases
- Sex offender management
- Repeat offender provisions
- Specialized research and reporting
- Combating violence on campuses
- Safe havens and housing for victims
- Public awareness campaigns
- Healthcare’s response to sexual and domestic violence
- Juvenile justice
- Child protection
What does this mean for me?
Firstly, this means that the issue of violence against women is being viewed as the serious epidemic it truly is. As a survivor and advocate, I strongly believe that education and proactivity are integral pieces of the puzzle. It is up to all of us, men and women, young and old, from all walks of life, to come together to address and talk about the issue of gender violence. It is easy to ignore these crimes until they touch our lives or that of someone close to us. Why wait until it is our mother, wife, sister or daughter, falling victim to such a crime? The reality of sexual assault and domestic violence is that it can happen to anyone, but too often, and in so much of my personal advocacy work I have found that the people who are driven to do something about these issues, are those whose lives have been personally touched by these crimes.
In addition, our friends, families, neighbors and all parts of our community should be aware of the services available in an effort to aid in the healing of this violence. When a crime is committed or reported, it is important for the victims to understand what services are available to them and how to obtain them.
In commemoration of the 15th anniversary of VAWA, join President Barack Obama (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Presidential-Proclamation-15th-Anniversary-of-the-Violence-Against-Women-Act/), the Office on Violence Against Women, SOAR and myself, in working together in your community as well as others, to further efforts for true gender equality and in ending crimes of gender violence against women and girls.
For more information on the Violence Against Women Act from the Office for Violence Against Women, go to: http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/regulations.htm
To read a message from OVW director, Catherine Pierce go to: http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/vawa15.htm