Between changing the definition of both domestic violence and sexual assault, eliminating nondiscrimination protections in health care, and chipping away at reproductive health options, the Trump administration wasn’t exactly known for upholding the rights of women, or people from marginalized communities.
So when the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) lapsed in 2018, it wasn’t a surprise that the Trump administration hadn’t reauthorized legislation designed to prevent gender-based violence and provide access to safety and support for survivors.
But now, thanks to President Joe Biden, the Violence Against Women Act is back.
Last week Biden signed the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022 into law — a law that some women’s health advocates say could benefit Black women, who are disproportionately impacted by intimate partner violence.
“You know, the fact is that it really wasn’t so long ago this country didn’t want to talk about violence against women, let alone as being a national epidemic, something the government had to address,” Biden said during a March 16 White House event commemorating the passage of VAWA. “As a society, we literally looked away. We looked away. In many places, it wasn’t a crime.”
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 45.1% of Black women have experienced intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking. NCADV reports 8.8% of Black women have been victims of intimate partner rape. And, according to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, more than 20% of Black women are raped in their lifetime.
Indira Henard, the Executive Director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center — the first and oldest rape crisis center in the country — is hopeful that VAWA will effectively support the needs of Black women and girls.
“What we know for sure is that sexual violence disproportionately impacts Black women and girls,” Henard says. “I am excited that VAWA will increase services and support for survivors from underserved and marginalized communities.”
With the reauthorization of VAWA, there will be “increased services and support for survivors from underserved and marginalized communities — including for LGBTQ+ survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking,” a press release from the White House stated.
Other VAWA initiatives include funding toward survivor-centered, community-based restorative practice services, and increased support for culturally specific services and services in rural communities.
“One of the things that VAWA will do is improve prevention and respond to sexual violence, including increased support for the Rape Prevention and Education Program and Sexual Assault Services Program, as well as expansion of prevention education for students in institutions of higher education,” Henard says. “This is a game-changer because it will not only direct more resources to the community, but it will increase the prevention efforts, and outreach in communities that are traditionally underserved.”
VAWA first passed in 1994 after Biden wrote the legislation while serving as a Delaware senator.
“We talked about creating shelters to give survivors a way out because so many don’t have a way out,” Biden said about writing VAWA into law. “And their children — by the way, the vast majority of children on the street with their mothers are there because she’s a victim of domestic violence.”
Henard was among many other advocates, allies, and survivors from around the country who celebrated the passage of VAWA at the White House on Wednesday.
On Twitter, she reflected on the legislation after the event, calling VAWA “the unfinished business of the 21st century.”
“It was very much a reunion,” Henard says about the event, which was the first time the activists had been together since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But being in community wasn’t the only reason she’s feeling so much joy.
“I am happy that VAWA reaffirms the importance of centering underserved, and marginalized communities and sends a clear message that in order to have effective sexual assault services there must be a direct response to racism and oppression,” she says.