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VAWA Over the Years

By David Cho and Jimmy Lee

Edited by Alyssa Shin and Racheal Lee

Imagine a world in which ¼ of guilty rapists are never sent to prison, where 16 in 1,000 women are domestically abused by their partners, and nearly ⅓ of American female homicide victims are murdered by their former partners.

Prior to 1994, the harsh reality was that women were common victims to violence who had no place to turn to when seeking help. Back then, crisis centers, nurse examiner programs, counseling, and preventative education outreach were severely underfunded, not to mention the lack of preventative actions. As a response, then-Senator Joe Biden, now the current president of the United States, introduced the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994, marking an important turning point for the protection of women on a federal level. Included in this act were initiatives to make public and private areas safer through features such as enhanced lighting, camera surveillance, and security phones among others. The State Justice Institute was also authorized by VAWA to create model programs to train judges and court personnel in state laws regarding rape, sexual assault, and domestic abuse, in order to sentence perpetrators effectively.

On paper, all looks well. But has VAWA been effective? In short, yes. Studies have shown that cases of sexual violence and domestic abuse have pummeled down from 1994. From 1994 to 2010, the rate of intimate partner violence declined from 9.8 victimizations per 1,000 people aged 12 or older to 3.6 per 1,000, a staggering 64% decline. Similarly, from 1995 to 2010, the estimated annual rate of female rape victimizations declined from 5.0 victimizations per 1,000 persons aged 12 or older to 2.1 per 1,000, a 58% decline. Judging by the fact that 4 in 5 victims of intimate partner violence were female, VAWA has had a large impact ever since its authorization, all supported by statistical analysis.

VAWA has already been reauthorized 6 times in 2 decades, with each reauthorization bringing more strength to the protection of women. Recent years of VAWA has emphasized the training of not only judges, but also medical workers, sexual assault response teams, and child programs. Research on domestic violence now is conducted by the Domestic Violence Force, leading to raised penalties for these crimes.

Still, with the recent death of Sarah Everard, it cannot be said with full confidence that women in the world, let alone America, are safe and protected at all times. In an article made in 2011, statistics showed how 1 in 4 women have been domestically abused, nearly 1 in 5 women have been raped or sexually harassed, and 1 in 6 have reported being stalked. Because of this, along with VAWA, women have been utilizing different tactics to protect themselves.

For decades, women have been taught and have been using safety precautions-- defense tools like pepper spray are essential during travel, and some have even gone to great lengths to carry tasers. If the “fake call in the Uber ride” TikTok trend has taught us anything, it is that violence against women has been normalized and, in response, a defense coalition has formed to show women how to escape dangerous situations. All that is well. Women should always be vigilant, around both people they do and don’t know. But how about the other side? What has been done to educate boys?

Well, not much. Girls have been told to carry weapons, avoid wearing revealing clothing, and not walk alone in dark area, while boys have been told to simple not commit acts of violence against women. However, it is all too common to hear the phrase, “Boys will be boys,” whenever an adolescent sexually harrasses or mistreats a woman. This could be in the form of touching a woman inappropriately, catcalling, coercing a woman, and much more. Because this type of behavior is so normalized in today’s day and age, many men have been able to act in such ways with little to no consequences.

Just as VAWA aims to institutionalize the proper response to cases of violence against women, it has yet to address the source of the problem. From an early age, boys must be taught basic ideas of respect-- the “golden rule” of “treating someone how you would like to be treated” simply does not cut it anymore. Topics including consent and the consequences of committing violence against women must be exposed to children. This could be done by having frequent school assemblies on this problem, enforcing a class to be created centered around this topic, and just committing time to educate children at an early age so that this type of treatment can be normalized.

Yes, such an approach will lead to an early exposure of sexual/violent content to kids. However, “social” education is not like teaching first-grade history. It’s not something that we can afford for people to forget. It consists of ideas of knowing when a woman is uncomfortable, treating a woman with respect, and learning when to stop and hear her refusals,

As Women’s History Month comes to an end, let us remember the cruel reality women used and still live in, and the act that has suppressed much violence against them. Let us also remember that there is still work to be done. Not only should we continue to protect women by enhancing technology such as surveillance cameras and alarms for alerting the police -- a device used in some alleys in South Korea to call police to that location immediately ---, but we should try to educate the young into changing the social normalities of how to treat women. As they say, the young will lead the future of this nation.


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