Strength In Numbers: State Laws Increasing VAWA Protections

On Thursday, March 7, President Barack Obama signed into law the renewed Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The new legislation will grant $659 million to support VAWA programs during a five year period. The legislation would also provide new protections for women who identify as LGBTQ or Native American who are victims of domestic violence. The re-authorization of this critical law has been a long battle since its expiration in 2011.

VAWA was first created and authorized in 1994 in response to Congressional findings which indicated that families are discriminated against, denied access to, and evicted from housing because of situations involving domestic and/or sexual violence. The act provides housing protections for women who have experienced domestic violence. The law was first reauthorized in 2000 and again in 2005. In 2012, however, the law was not passed after a final vote for re-authorization in the House of Representatives. While the law was not reenacted, its applications remained in effect — VAWA stayed the same. The forefront of the domestic violence issue in America changed though, and it has become more prominent than ever; 50%-100% of women currently experiencing homelessness has experienced domestic or sexual violence at one point in their lives. 1 out of 4 individuals experiencing homelessness attribute domestic violence to be a main cause of their homelessness. The needs of survivors of domestic violence are ever changing, and they need to be immediately addressed. So, while VAWA’s reauthorization was in limbo last year, states took power into their own hands and created new laws that build upon the protections set forth by VAWA.

The Law Center recently published a report entitled “There’s No Place like Home: Protecting the Housing Rights of Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence.” The report analyzes state housing protections that build upon the regulations VAWA provided during its standstill, and recommends what local advocates and state governments can propose into law based on current national trends. The Law Center found the most common state housing protections were ones that:

  • Allow courts to remove the perpetrator of domestic or sexual violence from the respective residence of the survivor, regardless of who is the legal owner of the residence. This legislation is in effect in 80% of states.
  • Protect the identity of the survivor. Many of these statutes make it illegal for a landlord to disclose confidential information (such as the survivor’s address, phone number, social security number, and additional identifying information) subject to court order. This legislation is in effect in 76% of states.
  • Provide housing and relocation assistance to survivors and families who are homeless because of their experience with domestic or sexual violence. Survivors and their children are able to stay in emergency shelters, or receive a financial award for relocation assistance, depending on the respective circumstances. This legislation is in effect in 44% of states.

These housing and relocation protections are crucial to survivors. They empower them to reclaim their true identity and innermost being. The new VAWA provides the best support system to survivors of domestic violence that we have seen up to this date, and even more women will feel they can return to normalcy. That isn’t enough, though. Although VAWA was passed, the re-authorization was stalled for a significant period of time and does not provide the specific protections that state laws do. Different states showcase different trends, and it is up to state law to address the needs of their respective communities. We hope this report is a starting point for your state to make their support system for survivors of domestic violence more substantial, effective, and powerful.

To read the full report, click here.

Interested in learning more? The Center is hosting a free webinar to discuss the report on Thursday, April 4, from 2:00pm-3:00pm EST. Please join us! To learn more and register, please click here.

- Karissa Broderick-Beck, Development & Communications Intern

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