The Violence Against Women Act is a way for immigrant and citizen women to enforce their rights and live safer lives in contexts of abuse, but it still has many unsolved problems.
In 2022, the Violence Against Women Act (also known as VAWA) was reauthorized at the federal level, thanks to the current administration’s work. This extraordinary measure has to be reauthorized every five years by the US Congress and provides millions of dollars to help states fund services to fight gender-based violence.
However, the funding isn’t always as straightforward as it should. In some states, funding won’t be available until 2024, and there aren’t any other alternatives provided in the meantime to keep this services running.
According to Alexandria Taylor, director of Sexual Assault Services at the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, the 2022 reauthorization doesn’t fix many funding problems with this policy. For example, the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs requested an additional $5 million in funding but only received about $4 million in additional funds. Not all of the additional funding is recurring, and in some cases, this means it will decrease.
“Flat funding is actually a decrease in funding; the costs of survivor services and programming increases. This [VAWA funding] is necessary. The Violence Against Women Act has been for decades a bipartisan bill. It’s important. It’s about people’s lives and important life-saving advancements in intervention in folks’ lives.”Taylor said.
What does the Violence Against Women Act help fund?
VAWA funds and helps victims in a variety of ways. Rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, the courts, District Attorney’s offices, and law enforcement all receive federal VAWA money. Immigrants can also benefit from these programs if they were victims of gender-based violence or related crimes.
Funding and allocating resources is crucial to help vulnerable communities like immigrants because it is one of the only funnels of federal money that go into the prevention of these kinds of crimes. Social services like those encompassed by the VAWA usually depend heavily on federal or state resources and rarely met the real needs that arise at the community level.
What are the problems of VAWA?
Federal funding often comes with strict guidelines that do not always take into account the diverse needs of the affected population, especially when it comes to “deep levels of trauma”, as Taylor puts it. Also, there are some hard limits that tend to make things more complicated for victims.
For example, federal money can’t be used on food or groceries, but sometimes that’s exactly what a victim needs to be able to attain independence and get out of an abusive relationship or situation. The National Network to End Domestic Violence states that individuals who experience housing or food insecurity regularly have a significantly higher prevalence of all forms of abuse by an intimate partner or family member.
For many, VAWA is just the bare minimum. But additional policies need to be instated to make sure that the needs of vulnerable populations: women, migrants, indigenous and black communities are actually being helped. Other advocates of women’s rights also criticize the police-oriented nature of the programs, that often fail to take into account systemic issues and only respond with generalized violence to very delicate situations, putting victims in danger or making them relive and deepen their trauma.
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