The Violence Against Women Act, also known as VAWA, was originally passed with bipartisan support in 1994. It provides resources for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and has been reauthorized several times since then.
The law lapsed at the end of 2018. Reauthorizations passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019 and 2021. But it has not passed the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday to support the act.
“Ending domestic violence and other VAWA-related crimes has been a priority of mine since I became a senator, but also as a congresswoman,” she testified. “As a matter of fact, the first time I ever came over to the senate was to join with then-Senator Biden to celebrate one of the reauthorizations in the early 2000s.
But she noted that she wants it to reflect the needs of her home state.
“One of my concerns is that VAWA formulas need updating to better reflect our nation’s rural populations,” she said. “I’m also concerned about the plight of service providers who are struggling to recover economically, post-Covid. They need our help now, more than ever. “
Congress continues to fund related programs despite the lack of authorization.
Capito urged the Department of Justice to “update, to the maximum extent possible, its allocation methods to better reflect the needs of rural and remote areas, where many victims have unique challenges to reporting these crimes and seeking assistance.”
Advocates want the law updated. One key sticking point is closing the “boyfriend loophole.” That prevents people convicted of stalking or abusing a non-spouse partner from obtaining firearms.
Historically, VAWA has reportedly decreased domestic violence for women by 70 percent with a 50 percent increase in victims reporting crimes, according to information presented during the hearing.
But, numbers are beginning to rise again. Ninety-two percent of women murdered in 2018 were killed by men they knew.
Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois who chairs the committee, noted that COVID-19 has only made the issue worse.
“Over the past 18 months, many survivors have been isolated at home with an abuser,” he said. “Police departments throughout the country have also reported a spike in arrests and calls related to domestic violence. In my home state of Illinois, our domestic violence hotline experienced a 16 percent increase in calls in 2020.”