20 Years of the Violence Against Women Act

This past weekend marked the twentieth anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

The VAWA changed the way our country responds to domestic abuse and sexual assault. At a time when many considered domestic and sexual abuse to be a private family matter and victims were left to suffer in silence, this law enshrined a simple promise: every American should be able to pursue her or his own measure of happiness free from the fear of harm. The Act has helped victims and their families, it has elevated the need for services, training, and changed the way our society responds to sexual violence.

In 2014, why do we need a law like this? Isn’t everyone opposed to violence against women??

I mean, who actually is for violence against women in this day and age? Now more than ever there is rightful outrage over sexual violence and domestic violence. Sadly, as I reflected on the need for this law, I came up with a pretty substantial list. 

Here's who:                          

When people talk about “legitimate rape" or say that only certain kinds of women can be raped. That is being for violence against women.

When rape victims and other victims of violence are pressured to not report, to remain silent, so as to not ruin the offenders life or career or break up his family. That is being for violence against women.

When women and men are told rape isn't rape if you are drunk, or when she says no but really didn’t mean it. That is being for violence against women.

When people say that victims who are undocumented, who are LGBTQ, who are male (anyone remember Penn State?) don't deserve respect, concern, or support. That is being for violence against women.

People are for violence against women by denying funding for services which allow victims and their families to regain their lives, or which provide training for law enforcement or require the criminal justice system to respect the rights of all victims.

Twenty years ago the Violence Against Women Act was passed, and it has paved the way for excellent work in those two decades. In fact, VAWA helped fund Project360 – KCSARC’s innovative program to serve homeless youth impacted by sexual assault. 

But in my mind, the monumental change that VAWA created was to give victims a voice to BE LOUD about something we were all far too quiet about for far too long. Whether the offenders are famous athletes, college students, members of the military, or leaders of our institutions, victims and bi-standers are speaking out against sexual violence.

But we know there’s more to do. As long as the statistics tell us that one in five women in America has experienced rape or attempted rape. As long as there is complicity to sexual violence and people look the other way, as long as stereotypes still exist like “she deserved it” or “she wore a short skirt” and as long as people are passively for violence against women, we need the Violence Against Women Act.

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