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Federal Domestic Violence Law: Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

The 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), with additions passed in 1996, outlined grant programs to prevent violence against women and established a national domestic violence hotline. In addition, new protections were given to victims of domestic abuse, such as confidentiality of new address and changes to immigration laws that allow a battered spouse to apply for permanent residency.

The key provisions of the Violence Against Women Act are:

  • Full funding of rape kits and legal/court fees for domestic violence protection orders
  • Victim protection orders are recognized and enforced in all state, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions within the U.S.
  • Implementation and funding of special domestic violence crime units in local communities
  • Special domestic violence and sexual violence training for law enforcement officers
  • Ability of tribal courts to try non-Indian spouses or intimate partners of Indian women in domestic or dating violence cases
  • Provision allowing undocumented immigrants who are the victims of domestic violence to apply for a green card in exchange for helping law enforcement officials prosecute their abusers

Misdemeanor Conduct

According to the VAWA Act, a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, "has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim." (Section 921(a)(33)(A)).

Under these guidelines, an intimate partner is a spouse, a former spouse, a person who shares a child in common with the victim, or a person who cohabits or has cohabited with the victim.

Traveling Restrictions

Another area this act addresses is interstate traveling for the purposes of committing an act of domestic violence or violating an order of protection. A convicted abuser may not follow the victim into another state, nor may a convicted abuser force a victim to move to another state. Previously, orders of protection issued in one jurisdiction were not always recognized in another jurisdiction.

The VAWA specifies full faith and credit to all orders of protection issued in any civil or criminal proceeding, or by any Indian tribe, meaning that those orders can be fully enforced in another jurisdiction. Other states recognize orders of protection issued in other jurisdictions.

Landmark Cases on Interstate Provisions

There are several landmark cases that have been decided under these interstate provisions. For example, in United States v. Rita Gluzman (NY), the defendant traveled from New Jersey to New York with the intention of killing her estranged husband. The weapons she took with her were used in the murder. The Second Circuit upheld the VAWA provision over the defendant's constitutional challenge, and Gluzman was convicted for this crime.

VAWA originally allowed victims of domestic abuse to sue for damages in civil court. However, this part of the VAWA was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Morrison (2000), wherein the court held that Congress did not have the authority to implement such a law.

VAWA Impact on Domestic Violence Arrest Policies

Another goal of the Violence Against Women Act was to influence state legislators, particularly in regard to arrest policy for domestic situations. In order to receive federal funding, states must adopt certain responses.

The Act authorizes grants to states, "to implement mandatory arrest or pro-arrest programs and policies in police departments, including mandatory arrest programs and policies for protection order violations." VAWA has had a profound effect on state laws governing domestic abuse.

Federal Domestic Violence Law: Related Resources

Questions About Federal Domestic Violence Law? Talk to an Attorney

If you or someone you know has been accused of domestic violence, whether interstate abuse, stalking, or something else, you should strongly consider speaking with an attorney. Furthermore, if you've been the victim of domestic violence, you'll likely have many legal questions moving forward. Start the process by contacting an experienced family law attorney today.

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