June 1, 2022

What the Violence Against Women Act doesn’t do

Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

The 2022 federal reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has been hailed as good news, but there are problems it doesn’t solve.

President Joe Biden signed VAWA reauthorization earlier this spring. The last time U.S. Congress reauthorized it was in 2013. It is supposed to be reauthorized every five years. It provides millions of dollars to every state to help fund services to victims of gender-based violence.

Alexandria Taylor, director of Sexual Assault Services at the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said the federal funds won’t be available until Fiscal Year 2024, so exactly what the new programming in New Mexico will look like is not yet clear.

She also said the reauthorization also does not “fix the funding problem” for New Mexico sexual assault programming. The New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs requested an additional $5 million in funding from the 2022 Legislature but instead received about $4 million in additional funds. Not all of the additional funding is recurring, and some federal dollar allocations will decrease. In addition, the state’s sexual assault nurse examiner program has received its annual $1 million appropriation every year since the allocation’s inception in 2003.

Related: With limited funding, New Mexico sexual assault programming looks ahead

“Flat funding is actually a decrease in funding; the costs of survivor services and programming increases. This [VAWA funding] is necessary. VAWA has been for decades a bipartisan bill. It’s important. It’s about people’s lives and important life-saving advancements in intervention in folks’ lives,” Taylor said.

She said VAWA funds victims in a variety of ways. Rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, the courts, District Attorney’s offices and law enforcement all receive federal VAWA dollars, Taylor said.

Funding and resources at all levels – federal, state, local and community are important because intervention is prevention, she said.

“The reality of it is, for all of history, social services are grossly underfunded,” she said.

In addition, one of the limitations of VAWA is that federal dollars do not always meet the need at the community level.

Taylor said federal funding comes with strict guidelines that do not always meet culturally responsive needs that exist in a diverse population, especially when talking about “deep levels of trauma.” This creates limits to how money can sometimes be spent.

An example, Taylor said, is when a victim needs groceries as part of their escape from a violent situation. But federal funds cannot be spent on food, Taylor said. 

“It’s a federal rule,” she said. 

But often, a victim can’t leave because of a lack of means or financial dependence. The National Network to End Domestic Violence has said that individuals who experience housing or

food insecurity over a 12-month period have a significantly higher prevalence of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner.

Taylor said the reauthorization will help with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives crisis. 

“I think the roots of the MMIWR crisis are, we’ve created a vulnerable population because the tribal communities have not been able to protect their own community members and hold nonnatives accountable for crimes in their own communities,” Taylor said. 

The 2022 reauthorization “restores the authority of tribal courts to hold non-Natives

accountable for sexual assault,” Chief Judge Kim McGinnis of the Pueblo of Pojoaque said through a news release. 

But, Rachel Lorenzo, cofounder of Indigenous Women Rising and Mescalero Apache/Laguna

Pueblo/Xicana, called VAWA “the bare minimum.”

“Thank you? It’s ridiculous we have to reauthorize a law to protect women and children from

violence to make sure there’s some kind of legal route for us to be protected,” Lorenzo said.