TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ago today, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) became law—a landmark piece of legislation that forced us to grapple with the epidemic of sexual assault and intimate-partner violence in our country.
VAWA wasn’t a total victory. We are still working toward a world where women are safe and their civil rights are fully protected. But we should not forget how much ground it broke.
Nothing about VAWA was easy or uncontroversial. It took four years from when I first introduced the bill in 1990 until it passed. We had to fight opposition in Congress, from the courts, and from a culture that wanted to remain willfully blind to systemic violence against women — a culture that saw intimate-partner abuse as a “private matter.”
Today, there is no question that it is a crime — because of VAWA. Today, shelters and intervention programs across the country use VAWA funds to support survivors, like the Turning Points Network in Claremont, N.H., which provides transitional housing assistance. Today, the VAWA-established National Domestic Violence Hotline is a phone call away, 24-hours-a-day.
Every time VAWA was renewed—in 2000, 2005, and 2013 — we strengthened and expanded it, most recently adding critical protections for LGBTQ, immigrant, and Native American survivors.
But nothing worth doing is ever easy, and the proof is in the results. Between 1994, when VAWA became law, and 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice calculated a 72 percent drop in serious victimization of women by an intimate partner. VAWA improved the lives of millions of women.
Championing VAWA remains one of my proudest accomplishments in Washington, and it’s been a focus throughout my career. The Obama-Biden Administration took critical steps under Title IX to address sexual assault on college campuses — progress President Trump is undoing. We also ensured that rape and domestic violence could no longer be considered a “preexisting condition” used to deny women insurance.
Now Trump is fighting in court to overturn Obamacare and take away those protections as well.
We can’t let that happen. Because there are still too many women for whom fear and violence are a daily reality. Just look at the numbers here in New Hampshire.
In 2018, New Hampshire’s 13 crisis centers served more than 15,000 adults affected by domestic violence, sexual abuse, and stalking — mostly women. Almost two-thirds identified as survivors of domestic violence. Fifty-eight percent of all homicides in New Hampshire between 2009 and 2015 were connected to domestic violence. Surveys have reported that almost 40 percent of New Hampshire women experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
That’s why we need to double down on our commitment to keep pushing forward — to prevent violence against women and take on today’s challenges, including the dangerous way violence and harassment against women have metastasized online.
The first step is demanding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allow a vote on the 2019 Violence Against Women Act, which will prevent abusers from having a gun by closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole” and expand funding for prevention programs, among other advances.
But there’s even more we need to do. As President, I’ll prioritize ending the shameful rape-kit backlog, delivering justice to survivors, expanding the safety net for survivors and reducing survivor trauma.
We need leadership to end violence against women at the highest levels of our government. That’s why we need to keep VAWA champions like Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in Congress, advocating for action, protecting funding for the Office of Violence Against Women, and leading the fight against gender-based violence internationally.
But the power to drive change also lies with each of us.
As vice president, I launched the It’s on Us movement on college campuses across the country with a simple message: we all have a responsibility to intervene when we witness abuse or sexual assault. Instead of bystanders, we must be activists.
We have to take off the social blinders that make it easier to overlook violence than to intervene.
We have to end the sexist talk — so-called “locker room” talk, bar banter, rape jokes — that only perpetuates the toxic idea that women are less deserving of basic human dignity than men.
We have to ensure that a survivor’s right to justice is always paramount and work toward the day when no survivor ever asks “what did I do wrong?”
In short, we have to change the culture.
Fighting the deeply ingrained misogyny in our society, especially the detrimental mindset that still leads to victim blaming or failing to believe women, is a driving focus of my campaign.
I plan to keep speaking out on these issues for the rest of my life.
VAWA was a huge leap in the right direction. Now it’s on all of us to finish the job.