The Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) was passed and signed into federal law in 1994 with bipartisan support to help victims of violence, including domestic and sexual violence, and to prevent future abuse. Since 1994, VAWA has been reauthorized by Congress three times (2000, 2005 and 2013).

Today, while there is an increased awareness of violence against women in our society and enhanced support systems, there is no clear evidence the legislation has effectively decreased rates of domestic violence. That’s because the programs under VAWA have never undergone scientifically-rigorous evaluations to measure their results.

Furthermore, since it was enacted, serious problems in VAWA have been exposed. For example, the Department of Justice Inspector General reports have consistently found irregularities, misconduct, fraud, and abuse within the Office on Violence Against Women. Sadly, this prevents victims who most rely on the organizations from getting the assistance they need.

Unfortunately, VAWA has not adequately addressed Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons, despite evidence that shows a growing prevalence of this abuse in the United States. VAWA also does not adequately address other abusive activities that harm women, such as sex trafficking, honor killings, or child marriage.

1994 – 2005

In 1994, Senator Joe Biden and Senator Orrin Hatch guided VAWA through Congress, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law. The purpose of VAWA was to provide leadership at the federal level to reduce violence against women and strengthen services to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

VAWA was reauthorized with bipartisan majorities in 2000 and 2005.

2012 – 2013

VAWA was created to protect women from domestic and sexual violence. Yet reports from the Department of Justice Inspector General raised concern about the misuse and abuse of funds within VAWA.

For example, a Department of Justice audit reviewed 22 randomly selected VAWA grants from 1998 to 2010. Of the 22 grantees, 21 were found to have violated the terms of their grants.

In 2012, when the third authorization of VAWA came up, a coalition of organizations, including IWF, urged Congress to use this as an opportunity to address VAWA’s most significant flaws and implement a better VAWA by advancing reforms to make it more effective and accountable.

A full breakdown of the problems with VAWA, along with a list of recommendations for policymakers, was detailed in this policy focus by IWF’s Christina Villegas in March of 2013.

The VAWA Reauthorization Act of 2013 was signed into law on March 7, 2013. The bill that passed included some accountability measures to ensure that VAWA funds were being spent on serving victims and holding perpetrators accountable, but there remained room for even greater accountability and other improvements.

VAWA Does Not Protect Women From FGM, Child Marriage, Sex Trafficking or Honor Killings

Many would be surprised to learn that FGM, which causes great and lasting physical harm (and in some cases even death) to its victims, is a problem in the United States, but it is. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. are at risk of FGM or have already undergone the operation.

VAWA also does not adequately address sex trafficking, honor killings, or child marriage. Research by the nonprofit group Unchained found that “a quarter-million children as young as 12 were married in the US between 2000 and 2010—mostly girls wed to adult men.”

VAWA should prioritize protecting women and girls from these heinous forms of violence.


2018 marked the 25th Anniversary of VAWA. IWF President Carrie Lukas and IWF Senior Advisor Andrea Bottner sat down to discuss why VAWA is in need of reform in this Facebook Live interview.

IWF also joined a coalition expressing support for reauthorizing a stronger and better Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by including provisions enhancing penalties for female genital mutilation and allocating funding to combat gender-based violence like FGM.

IWF also released top takeaways on VAWA and why it needs reform to make it more effective and accountable.

In response to Congress’ failure to reauthorize VAWA amidst a government shutdown in December of 2018, IWF released a statement condemning this negligence and urging Congress to pass an improved VAWA to respond to FGM, encourage increased transparency, demand accountability, and make sure that victims receive the assistance they need.


The highly partisan House-passed version of VAWA, H.R. 1585, currently does not include any federal penalties for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In 2019, IWF launched a petition urging Congress to include adequate protections from FGM in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Thousands have signed on in support of including provisions in VAWA to fight this heinous practice.

In a series of op-eds penned by IWF Chairman Heather Higgins, IWF Senior Advisor Andi Bottner, and IWF Visiting Fellow Dr. Qanta A. Ahmed, IWF urged policymakers to take violence against women more seriously by enacting an improved version of VAWA that truly protects women and girls.

Lawmakers heeded IWF’s advocacy and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019, which seriously addresses the horrific crimes of FGM, honor killings, sex trafficking and child marriage. This modern, stronger, and better VAWA would, if passed, deliver solutions to those in need and bring much-needed awareness.


Policymakers can do more to prevent and respond to violence against women and to ensure that offenders are held accountable by reauthorizing a better VAWA.

Severe penalties and other prevention measures can help ensure that t girls and women are protected from FGM, child marriage, sex trafficking and honor killings.

VAWA can also be strengthened by requiring greater transparency and accountability to ensure that victims can get the assistance they need.

Congress enacted VAWA 25 years ago with laudable intentions: To prevent and respond to victims of violence. VAWA isn’t a political issue; we all want to support survivors and prevent future violence. By reauthorizing a better Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), we can ensure that funding is spent on serving victims and holding perpetrators accountable.