Social Problem and Relevant Values

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Women are under-represented in positions of power and leadership. They experience discrimination and gender-based violence in various areas and disciplines. Early history of violence against women remains vague. Violent acts like sexual assault, physical abuse, and domestic violence was rarely documented due to social norms, taboos, and stigmas of the times. This report presents historical responses to these issues on a state and national level.

It wasn’t until the late 1840’s that these ideas started to change. In 1848 the feminist movement in the United States started to gain popularity.

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The feminist movement consists of various movements and ideologies focused on defining a state of equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women in the United States. Multiple waves of feminism continued into the 1960’s, 1990’s and 2012. Activists like Jane Addams, Victoria Woodhull, and Susan B. Anthony fought for the right to vote, equal pay, equal education, and anti violence. Support for this ideology includes for all people, female and male, liberation from sexist role patterns, domination, and oppression.

Historical Context

Little success was made until the 1870’s when courts in the United States stopped accepting that a man had the right to use physical violence against his wife. The definition of rape has evolved substantially, evidenced by the replacement of the early term “rape” to the more commonly used term “sexual assault,” which is more inclusive of various types of sexual victimization. As of 1955, the Model Penal Code still defined rape as forced intercourse by a man against a woman who was not his wife. Modern definitions still may vary across the states but in general, they have been updated in the following ways: they employ the term sexual assault to reflect the various offenses that can take place other than vaginal penetration; they are gender neutral; they allow the offense to occur within marriage.

During the 1960s and 1970s the women’s movement politicized domestic violence, calling public attention to this issue. It was viewed as a means by which men exercised illegitimate dominance over women. At the same time a campaign was led by feminist journal scholars and women jurists to educate judges about gender bias in the court system. In 1991 the Anita Hill hearings, where Hill alleged she faced sexual harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, along with a record four women elected to the Senate and 24 to the House in 1992 might have led to the proposition of the Violence Against Women Act. As a result, three sets of hearings were held as Congress considered the proposed Violence Against Women Act in 1993. Support was nearly unanimous and a representative of the American Medical Association declared it a public health issue.7

In 1994 Congress lead by president Bill Clinton recognized the severity of violence against women and our need for a national strategy and enacted the Violence Against Women Act. This Act ultimately holds offenders accountable and provides support to victims of abuse and their families. A person could now be criminalised in all 50 states for raping their spouse.4 It was recorded that The United States female population in 1990 was 140.3 million.6 It was estimated that one in five women are raped in their lifetime yet only 36% of rapes are reported.5 Further studies into the criminal justice system and public health showed the direction of a court case or report of abuse is impacted by how the victim and police department act and feel. Without set guidelines or principles, an abuse report may be handled incorrectly and ultimately takeaway justice for the victim and let the offender walk free. It has been found that early positive experiences of the police lead to an increased likelihood of the victim cooperating with their case and not withdrawing an allegation as it progresses through the system.2

To handle a case of abuse it may be necessary to involve more than just the justice system. Independent domestic violence advocates (IDVAs) provide short- to medium-term support to women at high risk of domestic violence and abuse, and in cases where IDVAs are involved, research found that 69% of domestic abuse ceased at the point of case closure.2 By integrating a form of healthcare, more victims are finding justice and support. The Violence Against Women Act responded to the inadequacies of state justice systems in dealing with violent crimes against women.


The Violence Against Women Act, commonly denoted as VAWA of 1994 was enacted to improve the criminal justice response to the violence against women by:

holding rapists accountable for their crimes by strengthening federal penalties for repeat sex offenders and creating a federal “rape shield law,” which is intended to prevent offenders from using victims’ past sexual conduct against them during a rape trial; A rape shield law is a law that limits the ability to introduce evidence or cross-examine rape complainants about their past sexual behavior. The term also refers to a law that prohibits the publication of the identity of an alleged rape victim. mandating that victims, no matter their income levels, are not forced to bear the expense of their own rape exams or for service of a protection order; keeping victims safe by requiring that a victim’s protection order will be recognized and enforced in all state, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions within the United States; increasing rates of prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of offenders by helping communities develop dedicated law enforcement and prosecution units and domestic violence dockets; ensuring that police respond to crisis calls and judges understand the realities of domestic and sexual violence by training law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victim advocates and judges; VAWA funds train over 500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and other personnel every year;

In addition to strengthening the criminal response to these acts of violence, VAWA created the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The National Domestic Violence Hotline responds to urgent calls for help and is comprised of more than 5000 shelters in collaboration with domestic violence programs.9 The service has answered over 3 million calls and receives over 22,000 calls every month; 92% of callers report that it’s their first call for help.1

Undocumented immigrants generally have fewer resources for coping with violence and may experience a range of personal, cultural, and immigration status–related barriers to reporting violence and accessing help. When revised in 2000, VAWA also focused attention on the needs of underserved communities, including creating legal relief for battered immigrants so that abusers cannot use the victim’s immigration status to prevent victims from calling the police or seeking safety, and supporting tribal governments in building their capacity to protect American Indian and Alaska Native women. This makes protection available to immigrant and tribal women who aren’t necessarily participating in the traditional population.

VAWA 2000 together with the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 and several smaller bills included a substantial expansion of protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking.3 VAWA 2005 substantially expanded VAWA protection for immigrant victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) and other forms of gender-based violence by including victims’ protections against deportation and improving access to immigration relief for immigrant victims of child and elder abuse.3 The most recent reauthorization of the Act happened in 2013. This version of the Act authorizes funding for social service agencies that aid victims affected by sexual violence, including rape crisis centers, shelters and legal-assistance programs. Reauthorizations over the years have included expanded provisions focused on reporting mechanisms for sexual violence on college campuses and extending protections for the LGBT community.


It was recorded that since VAWA was passed, fewer people are experiencing domestic violence. Between 1993 to 2010, the rate of intimate partner violence declined 67%1 and between 1993 to 2007, the rate of intimate partner homicides of females decreased 35% and the rate of intimate partner homicides of males decreased 46%.1 More victims are reporting domestic and sexual violence to police, and reports to police are resulting in more arrests. An increase to 43% of rapes were reported to police by 2015.5 States have reformed their laws to take violence against women more seriously. All states have reformed laws that previously treated date or spousal rape as a lesser crime than stranger rape, have passed laws making stalking a crime, have authorized warrantless arrests in misdemeanor domestic violence cases where the responding officer determines that probable cause exists, and provide for criminal sanctions for the violation of a civil protection order. Many states have passed laws prohibiting polygraphing of rape victims, and over 35 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted laws addressing domestic and sexual violence, and stalking in the workplace.

The variation of these laws may offer a victim time off from work to address the violence in their lives, protect victims from employment discrimination related to the violence, and/or provide unemployment insurance to survivors who must leave their jobs because of the abuse.1 The law can be one of the most powerful tools to affect this risk of violence against women. For example, federal and/or state laws determine when women can obtain orders of protection, impose criminal or civil liability for intimate partner violence, and restrict batterers’ access to firearms.11 Unlike state governments, which have a broad “police power” to enact laws intended to protect the health, safety, or welfare of their citizens, all federal laws must be supported by a specific grant of authority to Congress in the U.S. Constitution. Inspired by VAWA, some states have enacted laws that, like the federal VAWA, include a specific civil cause of action for victims of gender-motivated violence such as the California Gender Violence Act, 2008 and the Illinois Gender Violence Act, 2008.11 Advocates can encourage other states to enact laws with similar provisions so that more women can be protected. Also, several states have their own civil rights laws, which provide broad protections to individuals who experience gender-based violence such as the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, 2008.11


The Violence Against Women Act lead to the successful integration of healthcare support systems like IDVAs and the National Domestic Violence Hotline for victims of sexual assault. VAWA also provided support to tribal and immigrant women who are not protected under previous law, the LGBTQ community, and reporting abuse on college campuses. It has also created a more defined guideline for police departments and victims to pursue justice, and has ultimately led to an increase in reported sexual assault nationwide. The Violence Against Women Act is the inspiration for other civil liberties Acts created to protect more than just women. It is these ideas of justice that were the basis for VAWA and many other acts like it.


  1. Obama White House Archives. Factsheet: The Violence Against Women Act
  2. Williams, E., Norman, J., Nixon, K. (2018, September) Violence against women: Public health or law enforcement problem or both?
  3. Murshid, M. S., Bowen, E. A. (2018, October) A Trauma-Informed Analysis of the Violence Against Women Act’s Provisions for Undocumented Immigrant Women
  4. History Today (2018, December) Justice, at What Cost?
  5. National Sexual Violence Research Center • Info & Stats for Journalists (2015) Statistics About Sexual Violence
  6. United States Census Bureau (1990) 1990 Census of Population: General Population Charicteristics
  7. Document 6: Statement of John Nelson, M.D., Deputy Director, Dept. of Health, Salt Lake City, Utah. Senate Hearing 103-726, 13 April 1993. Hearing Before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 103rd Congress, First Session on The Problems of Violence Against Women in Utah and Current Remedies, Salt Lake City, Utah. Serial No. J-103-11. (April, 1993) STATEMENT OF DR. JOHN NELSON
  8. National Institute of Justice (1992) Reporting of Sexual Violence Incidents
  9. Gonzales, P. (2009) National Domestic Violence Hotline: Offering Help and Hope
  10. Sacksa M.; Ackermanb, A. R.;, Shlosberga, A. (2017) Rape Myths in the Media: A Content Analysis of Local Newspaper Reporting in the United States
  11. Rutkow, L.; Vernick, J. S.; Webster, D. W.; Lennig, D, J. (2009) Violence Against Women and the U.S. Supreme Court: Recent Challenges and Opportunities for Advocates and Practitioners
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Social Problem and Relevant Values. (2020, Sep 08). Retrieved from