This week, President Biden signed into law the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) of 2022. VAWA’s inclusion in the fiscal year 2022 spending bill, which passed both chambers of Congress last week with bipartisan support, is no small feat. As Attorney General Merrick B. Garland stated, “Domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking are serious violations of criminal law that demand our sustained attention and action. The Department of Justice welcomes the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and will continue to use the resources at our disposal to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and provide critical services for survivors.”
I strongly agree with Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, who said in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, “Our government has a moral obligation to protect its citizens. And when it falls short in that effort, we must listen to those who we have let down, to better understand where we can improve. Survivors who come forward to report abuse must be met with competent and compassionate professionals who have the resources, training, and institutional support to do their jobs.” At OVW, we’re honored to do this work. We are lifelong advocates and survivors; we are committed to ending domestic and sexual violence and stalking, and we could not be more excited about the passage of VAWA 2022. This historic law creates new programs and initiatives, expanding access to justice, safety, and services for survivors in underserved communities. For survivors in rural communities, for instance, this means improved access to sexual assault medical forensic examinations. It also means training a range of first responders on proven trauma-informed, victim-centered investigative techniques, while continuing to evaluate and refine these trainings. VAWA 2022 ensures that OVW-funded programs based in communities can continue providing essential support services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.
As Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta recently stated, “Centering survivors’ voices is crucial for this work to be effective.” For years, survivors of color and LGBT survivors have voiced concerns about the lack of culturally specific services and the disproportionate rate of domestic and sexual violence experienced by their communities. We are therefore thrilled that provisions included in VAWA 2022 bolster support for culturally specific services and create a program that will provide community-specific services for LGBT survivors. As Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley explained in an episode of the OVW Patchwork Podcast, “we can’t adequately address the violence if we are not addressing the context of specific communities and the barriers that may exist in a culture.” By affirming a survivor’s culture, service providers address barriers that can impact trust, access, and safety.
VAWA 2022, similarly to previous VAWA reauthorizations, expands economic support and housing stability for survivors by enhancing legal assistance and transitional housing support that can help reduce the risk of homelessness. This includes broadening access to support services for securing employment and ensuring comprehensive legal representation, including in eviction cases and post-conviction relief, both of which directly affect survivors’ access to stable housing. VAWA 2022 also helps to protect the right of victims to seek assistance from their own homes for criminal activity that is not their fault, without risking eviction or other penalties, thereby helping to keep survivors housed.
Now, more than ever, it is crucial to provide support for young people who have experienced or witnessed violence. This may help reduce perpetration as well as foster promising futures, which is why we are elated that this bill strengthens services and protections for young survivors in addition to rape education and prevention.
It’s unacceptable that American Indian and Alaska Native women face epidemic levels of violence, many at the hands of non-Indian perpetrators. OVW is grateful that VAWA 2022 builds on VAWA 2013 by restoring tribes’ jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, child violence, assault of tribal justice personnel, and obstruction of justice on tribal lands. This historic recognition builds on the successful implementation of VAWA’s 2013 Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction (SDVCJ), which empowered tribes to hold defendants accountable who commit acts of domestic violence or dating violence or violate certain protection orders in Indian country. In my testimony before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in December, I was clear: “many survivors have been left behind and perpetrators not held fully accountable because of SDVCJ’s limitations” – gaps in SDVCJ that undermined tribal efforts to protect survivors and hold offenders accountable. VAWA’s renewed commitment to tribal sovereignty is essential to our work in ending violence against women.
In addition, the bill establishes an Alaska pilot project, under which some Alaska Native Villages will be able to exercise special tribal criminal jurisdiction. We will continue to work with tribes to address challenges in protecting survivors and responding to offenders in their communities and encourage tribal leaders and designees to attend the 17th Annual Government-to-Government Violence Against Women Tribal Consultation in Anchorage, Alaska, in September.
I am also ecstatic that Congress passed the omnibus government funding bill, which provides the highest-ever amount of funding for OVW’s grant programs for Fiscal Year 2022. This includes funding specifically for Historically Black Colleges and Universities under OVW’s Campus Program and for cross-designation of tribal prosecutors as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys to address violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women.
In fiscal year 2021, OVW awarded more than $476 million in grants to help state, local and tribal organizations support survivors as they heal, promote access to justice for all survivors, and train professionals to respond to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Our grantees build projects that provide essential services to survivors – including legal assistance, culturally specific healing, and transitional housing – as well as engage men and boys as allies in preventing gender-based violence, and support training for police officers and prosecutors. OVW has started posting fiscal year 2022 grant award solicitations, and we encourage eligible organizations, as well as state, tribal, and local governments, to apply.
An absolutely vital component in awarding grants is the peer review process: we need peer reviewers with up-to-date, and on-the-ground knowledge of violence against women issues, and we are recruiting individuals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to evaluate grant proposals based on the requirements outlined in each program’s solicitation. OVW peer reviewers may include survivor advocates, judges, prosecutors, police officers, legal professionals, and others with expertise on tribal communities, colleges and universities, rural areas, urban areas, disabled and elderly populations, and providing services to survivors. If you are interested in becoming an OVW peer reviewer, please send an email to OVW.PeerReview@usdoj.gov, and attach your current resume/CV and completed Peer Reviewer Recruitment Form.