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What the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization means for Western North Carolina

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Lilly Knoepp
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The Violence Against Women Act provides funding for programs that support domestic violence shelters, services and care for people facing intimate partner violence.

The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized this month as part of the $1.5 trillion federal spending package.

BPR talked with Smoky Mountain News Politics Editor Cory Vaillancourt about the newspaper’s special coverage exploring the many facets of the act during Women’s History Month including the history of the VAWA, how the act expands the rights of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, how access to domestic violence shelters has expanded and how local law enforcement uses the VAWA funding.

The Violence Against Women Act was first authorized in 1994. It had an immediate and quantifiable effect on prosecution of intimate partner crimes and also devoted substantial resources towards prevention, reports Vaillancourt.

Every few years, VAWA grant funding expires and Congress considers reauthorization. The most recent version expired in 2019. This month, senators unveiled a bi-partisan compromise of VAWA that’s slightly different from the act that passed the House in March 2021. President Joe Biden signed it March 15th, 2022.

The Smoky Mountain News reporting shared some key facts about domestic violence, VAWA and human rights in North Carolina:

  • More than 35% of North Carolina women and 30% of North Carolina men will experience some form of stalking or intimate partner violence in their lifetime, according to a 2021 report issued by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
  • In 2020, a 24-hour survey of local and state domestic violence hotlines logged more than 20 calls an hour, every hour.
  • In 2020, there were 91 intimate partner homicides in North Carolina.
  • The grants from VAWA fund shelters, make public transit more secure, make prosecution more efficient and educate public school students at all grade levels – as well as college students, judges and attorneys – about rape prevention.
  • Provisions in VAWA made gender-related crimes a federal Civil Rights violation. The act made protective orders from any state recognized by every state. The act also made it a crime to cross state lines to harass or assault a spouse or intimate partner, or to force a spouse or partner to cross a state line.
  • VAWA increased penalties for sex crimes against victims under the age of 16 and authorized judges to double maximum sentences on repeat sex offenders.
  • VAWA amended the Federal Rules of Evidence to prohibit evidence of a victim’s reputation, past sexual behavior or their clothing from being considered as factors in rape cases.
  • In 2013, many VAWA protections were expanded to same-sex couples and transgender people.
  • Local law enforcement uses VAWA funding to take training offered through the North Carolina Justice Academy and enhanced training in collaboration with NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
  • In 1978, there were all of two shelters in North Carolina for survivors of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault and their children. Today there are over 100.
  • The 2013 VAWA reauthorization set up a federal law that created a pathway for Native American tribes to gain jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence against enrolled members on tribal land.
  • The 2022 VAWA reauthorization expands tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians to include assault of tribal justice personnel, child violence, dating violence, obstruction of justice, sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking and violation of a protective order — in addition to domestic violence. Ultimately, the EBCI’s justice and law enforcement leaders want the tribe to have jurisdiction over all crimes committed within its boundaries. It’s a sovereignty issue, and it’s also a victim’s rights issue leaders told Kays in her reporting.
Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.
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