Biden signs reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act
President Biden on Wednesday signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), reflecting on the decades-long work on the law at an event at the White House.
“This law broke the dam of congressional resistance and cultural resistance and it brought this hidden epidemic out of the shadows,” Biden said in remarks.
The reauthorization of the VAWA is part of the $1.5 trillion government funding bill, which Biden signed into law on Tuesday. The spending package also included aid to Ukraine.
Biden was a leading author of the VAWA in 1990 as a senator, and former President Clinton first signed it into law in 1994. It was reauthorized in 2000, 2005 and 2013.
“The fact is, it really wasn’t so long ago, this country didn’t want to talk about violence against women, let alone it being a national epidemic, something that government had to address. As a society, we literally looked away,” Biden said. “I recall how many times I was told in the prelude of writing the legislation that it’s a family affair. ‘You don’t understand, Biden, it’s a family affair.’ ”
The bill Biden signed on Wednesday authorizes all current VAWA grant programs until 2027. Additionally, it expands special criminal jurisdiction of tribal courts to cover non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault, child abuse and sex trafficking, and it supports a pilot program to help survivors in Alaska Native villages.
The bill increases services for survivors in the LGBTQ+ community and increases support for culturally specific services and services in rural communities.
“It’s not a criticism of police, for all the mistakes police make and all the things they do wrong, we expect them to be everything from a counselor to an expert on sexual violence,” Biden said. “These are vast majority people with degrees that are two-year degrees school. They’re smart, but we expect them to be psychologists, we expect them to be everything.”
The reauthorization establishes a federal civil cause of action for individuals whose intimate visual images are disclosed without their consent and creates a new National Resource Center on Cybercrimes Against Individuals, among other provisions.
It also creates new programs to help end the backlog of rape kits and improve the health care system’s response to domestic violence, including through enhancing training for sexual assault forensic examiners.
The president noted that Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the shootings in Atlanta, when a gunman went on a shooting spree at spas and killed six women of Asian descent.
“Today, one year since a gunman killed eight people in Atlanta, six of whom were women of Asian decent. These horrific murders are a reminder that we still have work to do to put an end to misogyny and racism and other forms of hate that we have,” Biden said. “As long as there are women in this country and around the world who live in fear of violence, there’s more we have to do to fulfill this sacred commitment.”
Biden said when he started working on the issue, he and other lawmakers at the time were told they would be responsible for “the disintegration of American families.” Also at that time, few police departments had trained personnel to handle domestic violence issues, there were too few places for women to go to for advice or help and there was no national hotline.
“My dad would say, ‘The greatest sin of all that anyone can commit would be abuse of power, and the cardinal sin was a man to raise his hand [against] a woman or child.’ That’s what this law has always been about, the abuse of power,” Biden said.
Ruth Glenn, CEO and president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, introduced Biden at the event.
Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra were in attendance, along with several lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).
The VAWA expired in December 2018 and was temporarily reauthorized until February 2019.
“The idea that this took five years to reauthorize, I was out of office those years,” he said, to laughter in the room. “And it drove me crazy. That’s not why it didn’t happen but it drove me crazy.”
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