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The Violence Against Women Act Has Expired. What Does That Mean for the Programs It Funds?

Many programs and shelters that address dating violence and sexual abuse are without funding.
Activists rally in June of 2012 to support the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act in Washington, D.C.

Activists rally in June of 2012 to support the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act in Washington, D.C.

It's been over a month since the Violence Against Women Act expired at the start of the government shutdown. Congress failed to renew the act after voting for short-term extensions in the months prior to its expiration, and many programs and shelters that address dating violence and sexual abuse are still without funding. Now, according to Rebecca Palmer, chief program officer of the Community Resource Center, a non-profit in the North County area of San Diego that serves domestic violence survivors, agencies that rely on VAWA funds are "at a high risk" of not being able to support victims.

The act aims to address violence against women by providing prevention education and direct services for survivors, as well as "[changing] public attitudes through a collaborative effort by the criminal justice system, social service agencies, research organizations, schools, public health organizations, and private organizations," according to a report on the act. Generally, the act does this by providing grants to non-profit organizations and government entities.

Since its enactment in 1994, the VAWA has expanded its impact to fund specific programs that protect disabled, elderly, Native American, and minority women from violence, among other particularly vulnerable populations.

One of the legislation's areas of focus is improving how law enforcement responds to violence against women through Coordinated Community Response, which uses community collaboration and resources to hold offenders accountable and support survivors. Many non-profits fulfill this by training law enforcement and judges on the nuances of relationship violence and creating networks for law enforcement to connect with domestic violence service providers. It's "critical to have an integrated approach with law enforcement," Palmer says.

CCR is considered an evidence-based practice, meaning there has been research over the years that back up its effectiveness. Here are some highlights from that research:

  • Programs that use CCR encourage law enforcement to take serious action in holding offenders accountable for their crimes through citation and prosecution. A study from 1999 found that, when CCR was enforced in Seattle five years after VAWA's passage, the city's arrest and conviction rates for domestic violence crimes rose above the national average.
  • CCR programs also improve offender accountability by providing court-mandated group treatment, which can sometimes take the place of incarceration. This method has been found to reduce recidivism among offenders when compared with incarceration, according to a 14-year study published in 2015.
  • Conversely, in communities without such programs, more women are killed by intimate partners, according to a study published in 2003 that evaluated intimate partner violence rates in 48 cities between 1976 and 1996. The study found that, when legal action against offenders is not accompanied by advocacy resources for survivors (most often provided by non-profits), and law enforcement policy changes that prioritize survivors' safety, then legal action is associated with an increased rate of intimate-partner homicide due to retaliation by the abuser. Additionally, communities without alternatives to living with an abusive partner, such as fewer domestic violence shelters, were found to have an increased rate of intimate partner homicide.

Looking forward, even non-profits that have not yet been affected by the VAWA's expiration are closely watching the news. Brandee Clayton of the Women's Resource Center in North County San Diego says the organization has not been affected by the VAWA expiration, because after the massive federal cuts in funding following the 2008 financial crisis, the WRC and many other non-profits began to rely on alternate funding sources, including state funding.

However, Clayton says that, if VAWA is not renewed in the coming months, then the state funding that California non-profits like WRC receive may halt, because the state's Office of Emergency Services receives its funding from the federal VAWA pool, and distributes millions of dollars in grants to California programs that address domestic violence.