WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker today joined the entire Democratic caucus in introducing the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. The bill, which would reauthorize VAWA through 2024, preserves advancements made in previous reauthorizations and includes a number of additional improvements to the current law. VAWA expired briefly last year during Trump’s government shutdown, which affected funding for a variety of programs and services across the country. After VAWA was renewed through a short-term extension, Republicans let it expire in February. The House passed a reauthorization in April.
“Reauthorization of this law should be a no-brainer,” said Sen. Menendez. “Before VAWA, women who suffered from domestic violence suffered in silence, and law enforcement failed to give this issue the attention it desperately needed. But we’ve seen how this law has helped victims and held abusers accountable. I implore my Republican colleagues to stand by survivors of domestic abuse and help us swiftly pass this commonsense legislation.”
“This legislation is crucial in our work to curb domestic violence and sexual assault. VAWA ensures that Congress provides critical services and resources for survivors who depend on this bill as their lifeline,” said Sen. Booker. “The lives of women across this nation are at risk the longer we wait to reauthorize this legislation. It’s time for Congress to act.”
VAWA was the first major law to help government agencies and victim advocates work together to fight domestic violence, sexual assault, and other types of violence against women. It created new punishments for certain crimes and started programs to prevent violence and help victims. Over the years, the law has been expanded to provide more programs and services for victims. Menendez has been a long-time advocate for VAWA, voting to swiftly reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, 2000, 2005, and 2013. Additionally he repeatedly thwarted Republican attempts to dilute or strip provisions that protect all women from discrimination and abuse.
This bill includes several provisions authored by Sen. Booker, including the Closing Law Enforcement Consent Loophole Act and measures from the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act.
The Closing Law Enforcement Consent Loophole Act would:
- Make it a criminal offense for a federal law enforcement officer to engage in a sexual act with anyone in his or her custody or while exercising their authority under color of law, regardless of consent. This would include federal agents, probation officers, judges, and prosecutors.
- Require the Department of Justice and the Government Accountability Office to provide Congress with yearly data on documented instances of sexual misconduct by law enforcement officers while exercising their authority under color of law.
The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act would:
- Restrict Federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) employees from entering restrooms of incarcerated individuals of the opposite sex except in exigent circumstances.
- Allow all pregnant women and primary caretaker parents to enroll in the Residential Drug Abuse Program.
- Require BOP to provide parenting classes to primary caretaker parents.
- Mandate BOP provide trauma informed care to individuals who are primary caretaker parents and train correctional officers on how to handle victims of trauma.
- Prevent women from being sent to solitary confinement while pregnant or in postpartum recovery.
Other key provisions in the VAWA Reauthorization include:
- Protects Native American women by improving tribal access to federal crime information databases and reaffirming tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking for all federally recognized Indian tribes and Alaskan Natives.
- Explicitly states that grant recipients are allowed to train staff and others on identifying and stopping discrimination against LGBT individuals. Service providers currently remain uncertain about whether they can use grants to train for this.
- Reauthorizes and updates the SMART Prevention Program to reduce dating violence, help children who have been exposed to violence and engage men in preventing violence.
- Expands grants under the Public Health Service Act to support implementation of training programs to improve the capacity of early childhood programs to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking among the families they serve.
- Provides services, protection and justice for young victims of violence, including extending the Rape Prevention and Education grant program, addressing bullying of young people, improving grants focused on prevention education for students and expanding relevant training for school-based and campus health centers.
- Preserves and expands housing protections for survivors.
- Provides economic security assistance for survivors by reauthorizing the National Resource Center on Workplace Responses. Protects employees from being fired because they are survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence and protects survivors’ eligibility to receive unemployment insurance.
- Enhances judicial and law enforcement tools through reauthorization of the Justice Department’s STOP Violence Against Women Formula Program, known as the STOP Program. Authorizes the use of STOP Program grants to expand the use of grant funding for programs focused on increasing survivor, law enforcement and community safety; increase legal assistance for dependent children in appropriate circumstances; and develop and enforce firearm surrender policies.
- Protects the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women from being merged or consolidated into any other Justice Department office.
- Helps prevent “intimate partner” homicides by including provisions expanding firearms laws to prohibit persons convicted of dating violence from possessing firearms, prohibiting persons convicted of misdemeanor stalking from possessing firearms and prohibiting individuals subject to ex parte protective orders from possessing firearms.