Federal and State Governments Fight Domestic Violence
Although numerous federal and state laws sanctioning domestic violence exist in the United States, the incidences of domestic violence remain substantial. The federal government has undoubtedly taken significant steps over the years to protect the victims of domestic violence through legislation. One such Act is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Act, at the time of its enactment in 1994, focused on providing funding to victims, services to victims, and training to judges and law enforcement officers. Still, as the number of domestic violence cases remained constant, the Act was re-enacted in 2000 and once again in 2006. The latest re-enactment extends services to domestic violence victims by addressing the issue of domestic violence related homelessness. The 2006 re-enactment guarantees that victims will not be evicted from government funded housing. Still, the VAWA has drawn criticism due to its gender specific title; although the federal government has assured that all victims of domestic violence are eligible for and will receive benefits under the Act. Keeping with the spirit of federal legislation such as the VAWA, most states enacted state specific legislation. For example, California has enacted stringent criminal penalties including pro-arrest policies, and many states have mandatory arrest policies for domestic violence calls. Regardless of the abundance of federal laws and the often strict state laws, the incidences of domestic violence remain widespread in the U.S.; this remains a concern to both the federal and state governments.
According to the National Institute of Justice, approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States (National Institute of Justice, 2000). In addition, it has been reported that most incidences of domestic violence are not reported to the police, so this number may actually be significantly higher. In response to the incidences of domestic violence, both the federal and state governments have responded with legislation. Although both systems of government have similar goals in that they protect victims, they do so in different ways.
For example, at the federal level, it is common to find legislation that focuses on the victim and victim rights such as those that provide funding and resources. On the other hand, at the state level it is common to find legislation that focuses on sanctioning the offender, criminalizing domestic violence, and results in the offender facing imprisonment and fines. This paper discusses the federal and state domestic violence laws in detail and explores the effects that these laws have had on domestic violence.
Violence Against Women Act of 2005
At the federal level, the Violence Against Women Act was originally passed in 1994 and re-enacted in as the Violence Against Women Act of 2000 and then in 2005 (Bartol and Bartol, 2008). The Violence Against Women Act recognized that domestic violence was not only a crime against the victim but a crime against the family (Id.). The re-enactment of the Act in 2000 and in 2006 expanded research and services to victims and focused on the role of the courts in combating violence against women (Id.). This section will focus on the 2005 enactment and whether or not it has accomplished its outcomes.
The Violence Against Women Act of 2005 included new housing and legal protection, and programs for victims of domestic violence (Stern, 2010). The Act also expanded protection to victims of sexual assault and stalking (Id.). As significant feature of the 2006 Act is the focused expansion of housing protection for victims of domestic violence (Id.). The 2006 Act protects victims of domestic violence from being evicted from section 8 housing in general or being evicted from section 8 housing because they are victims (Id). The 2006 enactment's goal was to address the effect that domestic violence has on homelessness. According to the National Task Force, 92% of homeless women have been physically or sexually assaulted (2005).
In spite of the benefits of the VAWA, the impact of the Act has been criticized. For example, the VAWA provides funding towards training programs for judges and law enforcement personnel and encourages judges to issue restraining orders (RADAR, 2010). As a result of these provisions, 22 states have mandatory arrest laws for domestic violence and eight states encourage arrest of domestic violence perpetrators (Id.).
In addition, the gender specific language of the VAWA has also been criticized. While research shows that women are…