Domestic violence: VAWA and its follies

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WASHINGTON, October 31, 2014 — The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994 in order to combat rape and domestic violence.  Although VAWA has driven the development of the law enforcement infrastructure needed to address these serious social issues, VAWA does very little to actually prevent domestic abuse.

While allies of VAWA point to a slew of statistics from before and after the landmark piece of legislation went into effect, these numbers also tell a story of failure. Looking at the National Domestic Violence Hotline established under VAWA, for example, the hotline receives around 22,000 calls a month with a lifetime total topping 3 million, but the fact 92% of those calls are first-time callers suggests the abused are not calling back, because they are not finding the help they need.

According to the United States Department of Justice:

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) currently administers 24 grant programs authorized by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 and subsequent legislation.  Four programs are “formula,” meaning the enacting legislation specifies how the funds are to be distributed.  The remaining 20 programs, including six formerly authorized programs that still have open and/or active grants, are “discretionary,” meaning OVW is responsible for creating program parameters, qualifications, eligibility, and deliverables in accordance with authorizing legislation.  These grant programs are designed to develop the nation’s capacity to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking by strengthening services to victims and holding offenders accountable.

Of more than a half-billion dollar budget for VAWA, only somewhere around 35 million dollars, or 2.5%, goes toward transitional housing programs. In contrast, the largest single allocation of somewhere around 195 million dollars goes to so-called STOP Grants to Combat Violence Against Women,” which are largely dedicated to awareness training.


Title 42 of the US Code § 13975, SubPart 4 of Safe Homes for Women, the Transitional housing assistance grants for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, states:

The transitional housing program awarded grants to operate new or existing transitional housing, which can include utilities payment assistance, security deposit assistance and other costs incidental to relocation to a transitional housing program or to locate and secure permanent housing, secure employment, which includes obtaining employment counseling, occupational training job retention counseling and counseling concerning re-entry in to the workforce.  This program also includes services such as transportation, counseling, childcare services, case management and other assistance. Thirty-five million dollars was earmarked for this program each year from 2014 through 2018.  The minimum amount being .75% of the total amount appropriated in the fiscal year, Indian tribes receive no less than ten percent.

Although thirty-five million dollars seems adequate, it falls considerably short of achieving the goals outlined under the program.  Thirty-five million, spread over fifty states does not begin to adequately fund the vital programs that victims of domestic violence so desperately need.  Considering the amount of funding offered to other program, what it does is demonstrate VAWA needs its priorities adjusted

In many respects, VAWA provides a band-aid approach that does little to nothing to help victims leave their abusers.  The focus of VAWA is largely on increasing awareness and the legal prosecution of abusers, not saving the abused.  A better approach would be to implement tangible programs that strengthen and encourage a victim to leave an unhealthy, abusive relationship before the next punch.

This article was written in cooperation with Myra Spearman, Founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Violence Registry, Inc.

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My name is Matthew Justin Geiger; I currently hold a BS in physics and psychology based politics from Allegheny College of Meadville, Pennsylvania. I am the creator/manager/editor of ​The Washington Outsider. I am a freelance writer, political analyst, commentator, and scientist presenting my views through news sites like The Washington Outsider, Communities Digital News (CDN) and Examiner.com. I also host the shows "The Washington Outsider" and "FocusNC" on local news station startup NCTV45 in New Castle, PA. In addition, I have written a short story collection, “​Dreaming of​ Other Realities,” two novellas “​Alien Assimilation” and “​The Survivor,” and a poetry collection, “​A Candle Shrouded in Darkness” available on ​Amazon. My goals are to offer my opinions and skills to those who are in need of an honest, professional consultant or freelance writer.
  • newsjunkieal

    Actually Matthew, the fact 92% of calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline are first-time
    callers suggests that the callers are getting referrals from the Hotline staff to various resources in their own communities just as they should be. A lot of victims have no clue what resources are available in their own area but they can get that information from the nationwide hotline.

    • Matthew J. Geiger

      Well, that would certainly be the hope, but government hotlines have a habit of
      bouncing people around to other “resources,” which then direct them right back to the original hotline. Thanks to the work of Myra Spearman Founder/Executive Director of the National Domestic Violence Registry, as well as her numerous associates, and victims of domestic abuse I know who have tried to get help from the national hotline, I can say my original assertion has far more credibility than you would be willing to admit.

      • Matthew J. Geiger

        When someone dials 9-1-1, a local operator coordinates the response of the
        local police, fire departments, and hospitals to get them the help they need,
        the same should be true of a national hotline that deals with domestic violence. It should not be a referral hotline. Victims of domestic abuse struggle with financial barriers, emotional barriers, psychological barriers, and social barriers as they struggle for freedom. By the time they are forced to reach out for help, any barriers that stand in their only discourage from them seeking the help they actually need. If you read the entire article, you would have realized that my broader point was that VAWA does not offer victims adequate support to allow them to deal with or break free of their abuser(s) while it also wastes funding on superficial programs.

        • newsjunkieal

          I did read the entire article and got your broader point. Why imply I didn’t read the entire article and realize your broader point just because I didn’t mention your broader points? I’m also a survivor and have worked with domestic violence victims for 15 years. I’m very well versed on domestic violence, VAWA, and how little funding is available to meet the needs of victims. I am also very well versed on other critical programs VAWA funds like critical training for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, social workers and other professionals who badly need to be trained on this issue, as well as dating violence and sexual violence prevention programs, among other things. Personally, I think more funding is needed – not a reallocation. Would you like some commentary from me on your broader points?

          • Matthew J. Geiger

            The reason I felt you had not read my entire article is that you focused on an introductory point and I felt you may have been one of those people just trying to discredit anyone who questions the status quo. Yes, I would love some commentary on my broader points, because a meaningful conversation on ways to make government efficient in terms of spending and effectiveness needs to be had on regular basis. You have 15 years of experience; what are some ways of doing things better?

            That said, there probably does need to be greater funding, but that’s a very tricky proposition given the state of the political climate. Not only would a movement to improve how available funds are spent, including funds available for other related social welfare programs, stretch those dollars to help more people in more meaningful ways, it would make it far more likely domestic abuse programs could get additional funding. In other words, results, e.g. self-sufficient abuse victims, not promises, is what it takes to get opposition support from so-called Conservatives.

  • Guest

    What would someone with a BS in physics and psychology based politics now about VAWA and DV? SMH!

  • nemesisbastet

    What would someone with a BS in physics and psychology based politics know about VAWA and DV? SMH!

    • Matthew J. Geiger

      Truthfully, not as much as my collaborator, who went through the system as a victim of abuse and is now a Juris doctoral candidate, but I know enough to see when government can do. If you actually understood what a physics degree is, what a psychology degree is, and what a political science degree is, you would realize my education is heavily weighted toward analysis, which means I have the analytical ability to interpret government politics and see their faults. I know nonprofits and governmental organizations are filled with people who hold masters degrees and PhDs, but there are a lot of those people who can’t analyze a damn thing or have an original thought if their life depended upon it. That said, government is filled with waste and inefficiency, because of people who simply discredit anyone who offers criticism. VAWA and DV be made more effective, but that requires people like you to embrace criticism instead of attacking people who offer it. We live in a democracy, so it doesn’t matter if criticism comes from dumbest person alive or the smartest; you criticize the criticism, not the person offering the criticism. It also requires nonprofits and those who work at them to risk losing their paycheck if they don’t perform. The last time I checked, programs like VAWA and DV exist to help people, not create a bunch of jobs for scholars who need work and a means of validating their sense of self-righteousness.

      • Matthew J. Geiger

        Also, you’ve falsely made the assumption that I haven’t had to deal with abuse and domestic violence throughout my life. I come from a family and community where abuse, including domestic violence, poverty, mental illness, and dysfunctional behavior are far too common.

        In high school, my fellow classmates and I would be subjected to classes and presentations discussing how to deal with domestic violence and abuse; this also true in college. Because these programs relied too much on dramatized facts and stereotypical cases of abuse designed to provoke emotional reactions, versus thoughtful actions, they were often mocked. To be clear, these students, many who also experienced abuse throughout their lives, weren’t mocking the idea of abuse or domestic violence; they were mocking the superficial and ineffective way “awareness” programs address abuse.

        What I learned from these and other experiences is that professionals do not explain abuse well enough for people to properly understand, support, or address this widespread social issue. A large part of the problem is that advocates try to approach the subject with emotion-driven discussions instead of solution-driven discussions. Using personal attacks and other forms of social abuse to discredit and suppress critics of the status quo.