Violence Against Women Act: Interstate Travel Provisions

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 What is the Violence Against Women Act?

The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) created several new changes in the area of domestic violence law. A national domestic violence hotline was established, and several grant programs were implemented to prevent violence against women. In addition, new address changes were also confidential.

Abused children and spouses are often afraid to report their abuse to authorities. Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to provide immigration benefits for battered spouses and children.

Self-petitioning is allowed under the VAWA. VAWA allows abused immigrants to apply for benefits without their abuser’s knowledge or assistance.

The VAWA Reauthorization Act of 2022 was signed into law by President Joseph R. Biden on March 15, 2022. Bipartisan provisions in VAWA’s reauthorization strengthen and modernize the law.

The law provides survivors, thousands of local programs that serve them, and communities with much-needed resources for housing, legal assistance, alternatives to criminal responses, and prevention programs.

The program strengthens access for survivors of all genders by strengthening non-discrimination laws and creating an LGBTQ services program.

Additionally, the law restores tribal jurisdiction, allowing tribes to hold non-Native perpetrators accountable, improving existing housing protections, increasing emergency and short-term housing access, and investing in culturally-specific service providers.

In particular, the VAWA is mostly known for its effect in the area of immigration law, as it allows battered spouses to apply for permanent residence in the U.S. Finally, the Act made major changes in the area of restraining orders and protection orders.

A Brief History and Background

Originally passed by former Senator Joseph R. Biden in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act recognized domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes and provided federal resources to combat violence against women. VAWA reauthorizations enhance existing protections and programs to meet survivors’ needs better.

Who May Self-Petition?

To self-petition, you must fall into one of the following categories:

  • If you are the battered spouse of a citizen or permanent resident, you may self-petition.
  • You can include your children as derivative beneficiaries if your spouse has abused your child.
  • A battered child (under 21 and unmarried) may self-petition.

How Do I Apply for Immigration Benefits?

Self-petitioners who are battered spouses or children should complete and file Form I-360. Include all the documentation you need to support your claim. It will be delayed if you send your I-360 to another USCIS office. Make sure you keep copies of everything you send.

United States v. Morrison and VAWA’s Civil Rights Remedy

The 1994 bill took four years to draft and pass due to fierce opposition to its most contentious provision, a private civil rights remedy designed to protect African Americans from gender-based violence.

Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist led the opposition.

He and several judicial organizations believe this private civil rights remedy will overwhelm the federal courts with cases that do not belong there.

Only the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) among the women judges supported the civil rights remedy. To address legislators’ and judges’ concerns, NAWJ worked with Senate Judiciary Committee staff and Legal Momentum to refine the provision’s language.

Following consistent redrafting and advocacy efforts, the bill passed in 1994 with the civil rights remedy intact and nearly everything the Task Force requested. Upon its approval, VAWA 1994 had the bipartisan support of 226 House members and 68 Senate members.

VAWA’s civil rights remedy was upheld as constitutional for many years after it was enacted.

Congress passed VAWA under the Commerce Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. At the time advocates and congressional staff drafted the law, Congress had the authority to regulate activities that had a substantial effect on commerce under a rational basis test.

The vast costs borne by taxpayers as a result of domestic and sexual violence qualify under this test. It was estimated at the time that domestic violence alone costs $5 to $10 billion in health care, criminal justice, and other special costs.

What Is VAWA’s Impact?

Even though the civil rights remedy was eliminated, VAWA and its subsequent reauthorizations have greatly enhanced services for victims of sexual, domestic, and stalking abuse, as well as providing education and training about violence against women to victim advocates, healthcare experts, law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges.

New legislation prohibits states from charging rape victims for forensic sexual assault examinations and criminalizes stalking through electronic surveillance.

Victims of domestic violence were originally intended to benefit from VAWA by improving criminal justice responses.

Under the VAWA 2000 and VAWA 2005, the grant programs created by the original VAWA were reauthorized, the mandate expanded to include domestic violence and sexual assault, and stalking, and the needs of underserved populations were addressed.

VAWA 2000 improved the protection of battered immigrants, survivors of sexual assault, and victims of dating violence. Domestic violence victims who fled across state lines were able to obtain custody orders without returning to jurisdictions where they might be in danger, and protection orders were more easily enforced.

In the VAWA 2005, communities of color, immigrant women, and tribal and Native communities were given increased access to services. New VAWA 2005 programs include Court Training and Improvements, Child Witness, and Culturally Specific Programs.

Domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are addressed by coordinated community responses (CCR), which encourage jurisdictions to bring together people from diverse backgrounds to share information and utilize their distinctive roles to improve community responses. There are many players involved, including victims’ advocates, cops, lawyers, judges, probation and corrections officials, healthcare experts, faith leaders, and survivors of violence against women.

The Office administers VAWA funds on Violence Against Women (OVW) of the Department of Justice.

OVW provides financial and technical assistance to communities across the country to create programs, policies, and practices that end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. In 2002, it was established as a permanent part of the Department of Justice with a Director appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

State, tribal, and local governments, non-profit organizations, and universities have received nearly $4 billion in VAWA grants since 1994. To combat the legacy of laws and social norms that have long justified violence against women, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included an additional $225 million for OVW on February 19, 2009.

How Does the Act Affect the Injured Party’s Ability to Travel Across State Lines?

Before VAWA, protection orders issued in one state were not always enforced in another. In other words, injured parties sometimes had to obtain a new protection order or register their current one whenever they crossed state lines.

Protection orders issued through criminal or civil cases are now given full faith and credit under VAWA. Therefore, such orders are fully enforceable in other jurisdictions as well. Under certain conditions, Alaska, Montana, and Pennsylvania still require out-of-state orders to be filed with the state.

Thus, a person convicted of domestic violence may not:

  • Follow the victim across state lines into another state for the purposes of violating a protection order
  • Travel to another state for the purposes of committing domestic violence against a spouse or ex-spouse
  • Force the victim to relocate to another state

These new changes can greatly assist victims of domestic violence, who may already be under stress or anxiety when traveling interstate.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with a Protection Order?

Protection or restraining orders can sometimes be confusing to understand. If you need assistance with a court order or with a domestic abuse claim, you may wish to contact a family lawyer in your area.

Traveling or relocating to a different state may require the services of an attorney. After a domestic violence hearing, your family lawyer can advise you on your rights regarding interstate travel. If you have any questions regarding local or state laws, be sure to ask.


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