The Senate is poised to consider S. 1925 this week, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Despite the law’s good intentions, more recent reauthorizations—including the bill before the Senate—are seriously flawed and veer away from the legislation’s original goals of protecting vulnerable women.
As Heritage research fellow David Muhlhausen and Independent Women’s Forum visiting fellow Christina Villegas explain in a recent Heritage Backgrounder, the problems with S. 1925 are significant. In addition to broadening the classes of covered victims to include men and prisoners and expanding existing, duplicative programs, S. 1925 fails to rectify VAWA’s inadequate accountability measures—while increasing direct spending by more than $100 million.
As recent investigations by the Department of Justice (DOJ) have revealed, disturbing instances of fraud and embezzlement of some Office on Violence Against Women grants have marred the original law’s intentions. For instance:
- On March 27, a mother and daughter were sentenced after a DOJ investigation revealed that the pair had embezzled almost $160,000 in federal grant funds. The two women had worked at an American Samoa nonprofit that received more than $1.2 million in federal grant funds from the Office of Violence Against Women and Legal Services Corporation over a two-year period to offer legal aid to victims of domestic violence and other abuse.
- A March 2012 report following a DOJ investigation of the Virgin Islands Law Enforcement Planning Commission found that nearly $1 million in federal funds provided by the Office on Violence Against Women were questionably used.
- A separate March 2012 DOJ audit of the Couer d’Alene Native American tribe reported “internal control weakness” and “unallowable grant expenditures,” including more than $171,000 in compensation for an unauthorized employee.
As Muhlhausen and Villegas explain, existing VAWA programs should be adequately evaluated rather than expanded:
Nationally representative, scientifically rigorous impact evaluations should be used to determine whether these national grant programs actually produce their intended effects. Obviously, there is little merit in the continuation of programs that fail to ameliorate the social problems they target.
Unfortunately, the bill before the Senate does not address VAWA’s lack of accountability. Instead, it expands the scope of the law and already existing programs, handing more power over violence reduction efforts to the federal government.
“Using federal agencies and grant programs to fund the routine operations of domestic violence programs that state and local governments themselves could provide is a misuse of federal resources and a distraction from concerns that truly are the province of the federal government,” Muhlhausen and Villegas explain. “Simply expanding the VAWA framework with extensive new provisions and programs that have been inadequately assessed is sure to facilitate waste, fraud, and abuse and will not better protect women or victims of violence generally.”
No one questions the need to support and defend all victims of violence, especially women. Nor does anyone doubt the sincere goals of the original Violence Against Women Act. But good intentions alone cannot fix the substantive problems with the VAWA reauthorization and will not bring the most effective, efficient protection to vulnerable women. Congress should demand better evaluations of existing VAWA programs, reduce program duplication, and recognize that state and local governments are better suited to address violent crimes.