The Violence Against Women Act

The Basics

The original Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994 for a five-year period, with a requirement that Congress reauthorize its funding every five years.

The primary purpose of the VAWA is to increase legal resources for the prosecution of sexual violence and abuse, put away repeat offenders for the protection of communities, and establish a mechanism so that the federal government can provide aid to victims of sexual abuse or violence. 

The VAWA was reauthorized every five years from 1999 to 2013 under the Barack Obama administration. Unfortunately, while awaiting reauthorization five years later in 2018, a government shutdown led to the bill lapsing before it could come up for a full vote. Because the law’s funding is now expired, it will only provide funding until the end of the fiscal year unless Congress reauthorizes it.



The Office of Violence Against Women (OVW), which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, administers grants under the Act. Of the 21 grants available under the law, four are intended specifically for Native tribes and communities. These grants enable tribes to spread awareness of sexual assault, increase the means they have at their disposal to provide medical care and other treatment to victims, and fund tribal organizations that combat sexual violence and crime.

The Act also has provisions that strengthen the relationship between Natives and the federal government. The Department of Justice is required to conduct annual meetings with tribes to discuss progress made in fighting sexual abuse, and the Act mandates the establishment of a task force with Native representatives that does research and makes recommendations about how to better implement the Act.

The Task Force provides advice and recommendations on the development and implementation of a program of research that examines violence against Indian women in Indian Country and Alaska Native villages, including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, murder, and sex trafficking, and evaluates the effectiveness of federal, state, tribal, and local responses to these crimes. 

The Department of Justice has a useful website on how the OVW works.

Click here

 The website contains a very helpful map (see “Find Local Resources”) which leads to specific state contacts, including those run by tribal groups.

Current Legislative Efforts

H.R. 1585, introduced by Rep. Karen Bass in March of 2019, is a bill that would reauthorize the VAWA. The bill passed the House and was referred to the Senate in April 2019 but has not been acted on since by the Senate.
There is also a related bill, S. 2843, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California in November of 2019. It was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee and is still being considered by the Committee. Unfortunately, while all Democratic members of the Senate support the bill, not one Republican Senator has publicly supported it. Given that the bill had strong support in the House and that all members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate support a companion bill, voters need to reach out to Senate Republicans to urge them to support the bill.

What Can you Do?

Key constituencies will be tribal governments in “red states” where Senators should be concerned about the lapse in reauthorization for this important legislation. The bill faces an uphill battle if President Donald Trump wins re-election as he is likely to veto the bill unless there are enough votes in the Senate to override a veto. Thus, it is important that voters make their voices heard and urge Congress to get the VAWA funding reauthorized, or the hard work and progress that this law has achieved over the last three decades may be undone.


Karen, Bass. “Text - H.R.1585 - 116th Congress (2019-2020): Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019.”, Congress of the United States of America, 10 Apr. 2019,

“Violence Against Women Act Update.” Violence Against Women Act Update, American Bar Association, 2019,

“Tribal Affairs.” The United States Department of Justice, The United States Department of Justice, 28 Jan. 2019,