The New Expanded Violence Against Women Act and What It Means for College Students

Joy Chan ’14
Web Editor

On Thursday, March 7, President Barack Obama signed a renewed and expanded version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that Vice President Joe Biden sponsored back in 1994.

The original VAWA passed as part of the bigger Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to enable the criminal justice system to better address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. The act introduced a “coordinated community response” that supported a wider involvement of individuals from different backgrounds to further refine responses to cases.

The act strengthened federal penalties for repeat sex offenders as well, along with an implementation of the federal “rape shield law,” which prohibits the use of a victim’s sexual history in the case of a rape trial. States and territories had to honor protection orders issued by other states, territories and tribes.

VAWA also aimed to increase services and provisions for victims, to start the toll-free National Domestic Violence Hotline and to provide legal relief for battered immigrants. Under the act, the Office on Violence Against Women was established in 1995 to grant funding for programs in state, tribal and local governments.

Since the act was implemented, the rate of intimate partner violence has gone down by 67 percent between 1993 and 2010, while the rate of intimate partner homicides of females has decreased by 35 percent and of males, 46 percent from 1993 to 2007.

In a conference call to discuss the impact of VAWA for colleges and universities on March 8, Senior Adviser to the President Valeria Jarett declared this to be “a victory for young people” in helping to break the cycle of violence by allowing better access to education programs and services for teens and young adults. The priority is to decrease levels of fearfulness on college campuses by ending dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

The direct implications of the VAWA to colleges and universities nationwide are clear. The VAWA requires clear written procedures for prompt, fair and impartial investigations by trained officials. The act will also enforce the reporting of all crimes pertaining to existing provisions under Title IX. Orientation programs for incoming students will be introduced along with the establishment of an on going education program. The programs will focus on the definition of crimes, what consent means, the role of the bystander and the warning signs for increasing danger.

While there is no one standard model in mind, Jarett cites the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention program currently offered at University of New Hampshire as a model to follow.

The White House Adviser on Domestic Violence Lynn Rosenthal was also present at the conference call. She described the VAWA as “historic” in removing barriers for LGBTQ victims by first prohibiting discriminations against victims. The state is also encouraged to develop more services for such victims and put gender identity under hate crime protection.

Through such increased prioritization of violence prevention for women across U.S. college campuses, the newly expanded revision of VAWA will hopefully be able to prevent sexual assault and rape crimes in the future.

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