Raising Awareness of the Violence Against Women Act on Campus

Learn how the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) impacts college students and how students can raise awareness about violence on campus.
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  • The VAWA Act funds prevention programs and helps support victims of violence.
  • COVID-19 has limited survivors' access to in-person services and sources of social support.
  • With reauthorization, VAWA can keep helping survivors of crime, including college students.
  • Students can and should play an active role in raising awareness about violence on campus.

In less than two years, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) will turn 30 years old. First signed into law in 1994, colleges must still adhere to VAWA requirements and mandates since crimes continue to affect students. These crimes have led to protests nationwide.

Congress signaled its continued support of VAWA by voting to reauthorize the act as part of a $1.5 trillion government spending package.

Read on to learn how VAWA impacts college students and how students can promote awareness about violence on campus.

What Is the Violence Against Women Act?

VAWA was implemented in response to concerns about violent crime — specifically domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Despite its name, VAWA's protections extend to all survivors of these crimes, not just women.

VAWA emphasized a criminal justice approach, allocating resources to investigate offenses and demanding harsher punishments for repeat offenders. VAWA also mandated financial compensation for victims of these crimes.

Congress voted to reauthorize VAWA for a fourth time on March 9, 2022, allowing for continued funding of effective programs and updates to reflect crime trends, like cyberstalking.

This has specific implications for college students, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. VAWA calls for institutions of higher education (IHEs) to report and address these crimes on campus. However, when programs aren't well funded, colleges might opt for one-off online modules that may do more harm than good or be ineffective.

Pandemic Leads to Spike in Violence Against Women

When the pandemic unfolded in 2020, the general public was urged to stay safe from COVID-19 by staying home and away from potential carriers of the virus. However, home is not a safe place for everyone — particularly people experiencing violence at home.

According to a report by UN Women published in 2021, 25% of women surveyed felt less safe at home since the pandemic started. Unfortunately, there were not many places to turn to for support. People were limiting contact with those outside their immediate household, which meant less in-person social support for victims of violence.

Even if victims of crime are able to seek help, their only option may be to do so virtually since many organizations adopted work-from-home models to limit COVID-19 spread. This can negatively impact victims who don't have safe access to a computer or the internet.

The pandemic is ongoing, so it is impossible to say what the impact will be for people experiencing violence. Still, early data shows increased calls to domestic violence hotlines. In one study with domestic violence advocates, researchers noted that perpetrators used the fear of COVID-19 to further control their victims.

Issues and Challenges to VAWA

Dating and domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking continue to negatively affect college students. Students have been killed by dating partners, and universities have been accused of not doing enough to protect their students from perpetrators.

Now, more than ever, robust legislation like VAWA is needed to continue funding prevention and support efforts for survivors in light of the #MeToo movement and COVID-19. Bipartisan-backed legislation from Congress, which includes funding for VAWA, was sent to President Joe Biden for his signature and approval.

The latest reauthorization, which provides funding through 2027, includes a grant focused on training law enforcement in trauma-informed techniques when working with crime victims to prevent retraumatization.

This version of VAWA also creates a grant to support community-based services for LGBTQ+ victims of crime. IHEs will receive $15 million to develop and disseminate "comprehensive prevention education for all students." This funding will also support IHEs in developing restorative programs to help prevent these crimes.

Students have long taken part in formal and informal advocacy efforts, using social media to express their frustrations and to demand change. Now that Congress has voted to reauthorize VAWA, they won't have to do it alone.

5 Ways College Students Can Promote Awareness of Violence Against Women

  • Connect with formal and informal campus groups doing anti-violence work. Every campus has students, advocates, and staff who are engaging in anti-violence work. Connecting with these groups is a great first step to learn about the main issues the college is facing and what is being done about it.
  • Educate peers on the importance of VAWA. Now that Congress has voted to reauthorize VAWA, see how it can be used to support you and your peers. Review your campus' latest crime statistics. Consider what types of prevention programs are needed on your campus. And then start advocating for it.
  • Elevate survivors' stories. Just as campuses have people doing anti-violence work, every campus has students who've been victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Explore ways to support survivors who want to share their experiences. It will be important to prioritize victim safety, while limiting retraumatization and negative backlash.
  • Leverage technology to promote awareness. Utilize social networking platforms like TikTok and Instagram to share student stories, call for change, and promote anti-violence resources. You can also advocate for the use of digital interactive safety aids like the myPlan app if in-person efforts are not feasible.
  • Use pop culture as a conversation starter. Popular shows like "Euphoria" or classics like "Law & Order: SVU" can show how these crimes are portrayed and what stereotypes may be perpetuated. Use these to open dialogue with students about key takeaways and how to apply them to their own relationships.

Additional Resources

  • myPlan app: The myPlan app was developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University to help people "identify, navigate, and provide resources for a range of relationship abuse concerns."
  • Cyber Civil Rights Initiative: CCRI helps raise awareness and combat tech abuses for crimes like revenge porn.
  • Know Your IX: Know Your IX is a student-led organization that supports students affected by issues like dating and domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault.
  • One Love Foundation: One Love helps people recognize signs of unhealthy relationships to prevent dating violence.
  • End Rape on Campus: EROC provides support for survivors through prevention education while advocating for policy reform on local, state, and national levels.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Violence Against Women Act

Who does VAWA protect?

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VAWA's provisions extend to most victims of dating and domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the United States, regardless of age, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Even those who are not U.S. citizens may be eligible for support under VAWA.

VAWA does not directly provide financial or other kinds of support. But it does fund programs and prevention efforts to support victims and reduce violence. For example, VAWA funds a grant program that provides legal assistance for victims that nonprofits and tribes can apply for.

What was the effect of the Violence Against Women Act?

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The Violence Against Women Act signaled the nation's desire to address gender-based violence crimes. It did so by providing legal definitions of the crimes, increasing funds to investigate crimes and prosecute offenders, and providing funds to support crime victims.

Since its inception, VAWA has also mandated housing protections for violence victims and added more protections for LGBTQ+ survivors of crime and those from Native American communities.

As a result, communities continue to be educated about these crimes. Also, offenders have been held accountable — though more work is needed. And organizations have been financially supported to continue to engage in effective efforts to end violence.

Feature Image: Francesco Carta fotografo / Moment / Getty Images