In September 2018, with most political debate and news coverage focused on the controversial nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Congress faced the prospect of allowing a major piece of legislation to expire.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first proposed by then-Senator Joe Biden in 1993 and signed into law in 1994. It provided significant federal funding for services offered to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, created the Office on Violence Against Women within the Justice Department, enhanced the training of law enforcement officers in the area of sexual and domestic violence, and strengthened penalties for certain sexual crimes, most notably requiring perpetrators of sexual violence to pay restitution to their victims.
The act, which comprises several constitutive laws, has been reauthorized every few years since 1994 with adjustments and additions being made on each occasion, most notably in 2013 when — after an unusually long party-line battle in Congress — the protections and provisions in the VAWA were extended to same-sex couples.
The act had been scheduled to expire on 30 September 2018, prompting concerns that women, children, and men who are vulnerable to domestic and sexual violence would no longer be protected by the the funding, services and legal provisions associated with the VAWA.
On 1 October, the Democratic candidate for New York attorney general, Tish James claimed on Twitter that President Donald Trump’s administration had “let the Violence Against Women Act expire without saying a word”:
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and at midnight the Trump Admin let the Violence Against Women Act expire without saying a word. This law provides grants for law enforcement training, victim services & prevention efforts. We can’t forget this today—or in November.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and at midnight the Trump Admin let the Violence Against Women Act expire without saying a word.
This law provides grants for law enforcement training, victim services & prevention efforts.
We can’t forget this today—or in November.
— Tish James (@TishJames) October 1, 2018
James’ claim was retweeted thousands of times and prompted inquiries from our readers about its veracity.
In fact, the VAWA was not allowed to expire on 30 September 2018, either by the Trump administration or members of Congress. James acknowledged this fact herself in a follow-up tweet in which she wrote:
Republicans & the Trump Admin quietly passed a 2 month funding extension, shoehorned into a larger spending bill. That’s nothing more than kicking the can down the road. We need a real reauthorization that provides long-term protections AND expands the
On 26 September, five days before James’ tweet, the House of Representatives voted through House bill 6157, an appropriations bill which provided funding through the 2019 financial year for the Department of Defense and other government departments, as well as an eclectic mix of several smaller measures, including spending related to the VAWA. The relevant section of that bill read as follows: “Any program, authority, or provision, including any pilot program, authorized under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 shall continue in effect through the date specified in section 105(3) of this Act [7 December 2018.]”
On 28 September, President Trump signed H.R. 6157 into law, thus extending the provisions of the VAWA until 7 December. He did not mention the VAWA in either of his public statements about the appropriations bill.
Although James was wrong to claim that the Trump administration had allowed the VAWA to expire, the provisions of the VAWA do remain in jeopardy, and Congress has only nine weeks to either negotiate a proper reauthorization of the act or allow it to lapse.
To that end, two U.S. Representatives have introduced proposals that would reauthorize the provisions of the VAWA. On 26 July, Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee from the 18th district of Texas (Houston) introduced H.R. 6545, which would reauthorize the VAWA until 2023 and add new measures, including increased spending for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, enhanced protections against stalking, and a ban on perpetrators of stalking from buying or possessing firearms.
On 13 September, Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik from the 21st district of New York introduced H.R. 6796, which would simply extend the existing provisions of the VAWA until 31 March 2019.
As of 5 October, both bills were before various House committees and subcommittees, but neither had yet been debated.
Biden Jr., Joseph R. “S.11 — Violence Against Women Act of 1993.”
U.S. Senate/Congressional Record. 21 January 1993.
Henderson, Nia-Malika. “Obama Signs a Strengthened Violence Against Women Act.”
The Washington Post. 7 March 2013.
Granger, Kay. “House Bill 6157 — Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act, 2019 and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2019.”
U.S House of Representatives/Congressional Record. 28 September 2018.
Trump, President Donald J. “Statement from the President on Signing of H.R. 6157.”
The White House. 28 September 2018.
Trump, President Donald J. “Signing Statement from President Donald J. Trump on H.R. 6157.”
The White House. 28 September 2018.
Jackson Lee, Rep. Sheila. “House Bill 6545 — Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018.”
U.S. House of Representatives/Congressional Record. 27 July 2018.
Stefanik, Rep. Elise M. “House Bill 6976 — Violence Against Women Extension Act of 2018.”
U.S. House of Representatives/Congressional Record. 13 September 2018.