When Joan Meier, professor of clinical law at George Washington University, looks at the data, she can’t help but notice a certain time stamp: 1994. That’s the year the United States passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), legislation that is now up for renewal in Congress.
“I’m willing to speculate [that] VAWA had a direct impact" on reducing intimate partner violence, says Ms. Meier, who also directs the university’s Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project. “Because of VAWA it became more widely understood that this violence is a crime and is unacceptable.”
VAWA funds police IPV sensitivity trainings, as well as legal services such as issuing restraining orders and representing victims. Perhaps more important, some say, VAWA provided momentum for states to adopt mandatory arrest laws governing cases in which police suspect domestic violence, based upon evidence and probable cause. These laws now exist in 22 states and the District of Columbia.
Others, though, are not so sure about mandatory arrest laws. They say the laws may cause victims of intimate partner violence to be reluctant to report the abuse, perhaps because the victim or the abuser is in the US illegally or because they do not want to see their partner go to jail, despite the risks at home.