From The Archives: Violence Against Women Act 20 Years Later

  • September 16, 2014

Twenty years ago, on September 13, 1994, President Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a law which reflects a core part of ADL’s mission: the prevention of bias-motivated criminal behavior. VAWA authorized government action to improve criminal justice and community responses to domestic and sexual violence and provided funding for the establishment of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. ADL’s support for the law, which aimed to protect women from violence directed against them because of their gender, was a natural extension of its work on hate crimes. 

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In 1996, two years after VAWA’s enactment, ADL added gender to its model hate crimes legislation, citing the fact that gender-based hate crimes could not be easily distinguished from other forms of hate-motivated violence. In response to legal challenges to VAWA following its enactment, ADL joined several amicus (friend of the court) briefs in support of the Act. In 2000, in U.S. v. Morrison, ADL, along with a number of other civil rights organizations including People for the American Way, the American Jewish Congress, and Hadassah, filed an amicus brief supporting the constitutionality of VAWA’s civil remedy provision, which allowed survivors of gender-motivated violence to sue their attackers in federal court.

Following the Court’s decision to strike down the civil remedy provision, ADL continued its support for legislation that counters discrimination and bias crimes—including on the basis of gender or gender identity. In 2009, Congress enacted the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act criminalizing hate crimes targeting victims because of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.  ADL spearheaded coalition efforts to pass the bill for more than a decade.

After failing to reauthorize an update to VAWA in 2012, Congress enacted new legislation in 2013, which included additional programs specifically designed to address domestic violence against women of color, Native Americans, new campus hate crime requirements, and intimate partner violence involving members of the LGBT community.

On this important anniversary, ADL reaffirms its long-standing commitment to advocating for legally-sound statutes at the federal and state level that counter discrimination, bias crimes, and violence against women.