Violence Against Women Act: We Should Care!

by Melissa Fritz Fuller
Police Officer (retired)

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 provided governmental funding for essential community based resources and enacted tools for law enforcement and the criminal justice system to change the culture of violence against women. The Violence Against Women Act has provided protection for those affected by violence and provided vital community resources and support programs to ensure the safety and protection of victims of violence. The evolution of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization 2013(S. Res. S. 47, 2013) was revised and passed by the 113th Congress and signed into law by the President Barack Obama. This act is very significant to the American people and my personal life and yours. There are many reasons why we should care about current and future legislation.

Melissa Fuller profileSome things that most people remember in 1994 are; Tanya Harding winning the national Figure Skating championship title only to have the title taken away after her involvement in a violent attack on rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. The song “The Sign” by the Ace of Base was playing on every radio station and the price of gas was $1.09 a gallon. OJ Simpson captured the attention of the nation fleeing from the police in his white Ford Bronco after his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were brutally murdered. One thing I do not remember is that same year the office of then Senator Joe Biden drafted the Violence Against Women Act and the impact of this legislation would play in our future.

As I was growing up, I remember watching old movies where the men would slap a hysterical woman to snap her back into reality, where they would manhandle women for some reason or another. I grew up with the notion that they were “just putting her in her place” and for reasons unbeknownst to me, she must have needed it. I was not shocked about it – that was just the way it was. There were no adults to tell me that it was not okay. This was something that was normal and I did not have a second thought about it. Remembering a neighbor woman who at one point in time must have been a real beauty, a real catch. Her husband must have worked out of town or far away because he was not home much. He must have “had a drinking problem” because of the enormous pile of glass bottles in their back yard. When she would come outside of her house, which was not very often, she always looked as if she were miserable and had been crying. One day I saw her crying and I remember asking my aunt what was wrong. My aunt told me that it was a private matter and I needed to mind my own business. Right then I learned that family problems were none of my business and family issues were to be kept private. This had been a popular cultural mores and values for many generations before me.

Not only in my lifetime but also throughout history women have been affected by domestic violence. “During the reign of Romulus in Rome in 753 B.C., wife beating is accepted and condoned under The Laws of Chastisement. Under these laws, the husband has absolute rights to physically discipline his wife. Since by law, a husband is held liable for crimes committed by his wife, this law was designed to protect the husband from harm caused by the wife’s actions. These laws permit the husband to beat his wife with a rod or switch as long as its circumference is no greater than the girth of the base of the man’s right thumb, hence “The Rule of Thumb.” The tradition of these laws is perpetuated in English Common Law and throughout most of Europe”(Lemon, 1996).

In the 1500′s early America settlers “base their laws on old English common-law that explicitly permits wife-beating for correctional purposes. However, the trend in the young states is towards declaring wife-beating illegal. One step towards that end is to allow the husband to whip his wife only with a switch no bigger than his thumb” (Schecter, 1982).

In 1871, Alabama rescinded the legal right for a husband to beat his wife, although arrest and prosecution was rarely enacted. (Schecter, 1982)

In 1874, “The “finger-switch” rule is disavowed when the Supreme Court of North Carolina rules, “the husband has no right to chastise his wife under any circumstances.” The court goes on to say, “If no permanent injury has been inflicted, nor malice, cruelty nor dangerous violence shown by the husband, it is better to draw the curtain, shut out the public gaze and leave the parties to forget and forgive.” (Martin, 1976). The culmination of historical abuse of women is why support for Violence Against Women Act is important for all people.

How was Violence Against Women Act started?
In 1990, U.S. Senator Joe Biden introduced the first Violence Against Women Act. Senator Biden and the majority staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded a three year investigation into the causes and effects of violence against women. The study shows the leading cause of injury to women in the United States between the age of 15 and 44 was not car accidents, muggings, or rapes combined. It was injuries caused by domestic violence. This epidemic of domestic violence became an open subject and now seen as unacceptable and in turn caused outrage from advocacy groups. Many Grassroots organizations began lobbying with their local and state representatives, with support from the medical and mental health communities, for change- protection for victims and insistence for tougher laws for perpetrators.

In his introduction to Violence Against Women – The Response to Rape: Detours on the Road to Equal Justice report, Senator Biden states, “Through this process, I have become convinced that violence against women reflects as much a failure of our nation’s collective moral imagination as it does the failure of our nation’s laws and regulations. We are helpless to change the course of this violence unless, and until, we achieve a national consensus that it deserves our profound public outrage” (The Response to Rape: Detours on the Road to Equal Justice: A Majority Staff Report prepared for the use of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundred Third Congress, First Session, Volume 4, 1993).

How does Violence Against Women Act help victims of violence?
On September 13, 1994, President William J. Clinton signed Violence Against Women Act into law forcing harsher punishments, specifying tougher laws, and funding for support programs. The following programs under the Violence Against Women Act:

  • Rape prevention education and coordinated community responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking- including interstate cyber stalking.
  • Strengthens federal penalties for repeat sex offenders and included a Federal “rape shield law,” to prevent offenders from using victims’ past sexual conduct against them during a rape trial.
  • Requires states and territories to enforce protection orders issued by other states, tribes and territories.
  • Creates legal relief for battered immigrants and access to immigration relief.
  • Allows victims to seek civil rights remedies for gender?related crimes.
  • Provides sensitivity training for officers and court officials and encourage arrest policies.
  • Rural domestic violence programs.
  • Child abuse assistance programs.
  • Indian tribal government programs.
  • Established the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE). Receiving their one-millionth call on August 2, 2003. Two millionth call in 2008.
  • National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline.
  • Support battered women’s shelters and transitional housing.
  • Combat Violent Crimes Against Women on Campus Program to strengthen security and investigate strategies to prevent and prosecute violent crimes against women on campuses.
  • Legal assistance to victims; victims do not pay filing or service costs related to criminal domestic violence cases or protection orders.
  • Train law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts on elder abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence against individuals with disabilities.
  • Provide supervised visitation and safe visitation exchange.
  • Adds “dating violence” to the purpose areas.
  • Training for sexual assault forensic medical personnel examiners (SANE Nurses) and no cost forensic rape kits.
  • Protection and services for sex trafficking victims.
  • President Obama declares April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month on April 1, 2009.

AusAID Photolibrary

Is Violence Against Women Act making a difference?
The National Domestic Violence Hotline was implemented and began operation and received its first call on February 21 1996. The hotline received 4,826 phone calls in the first month of operation. It now receives over 23,500 calls a month and provides access to translators in 170 languages. Research has shown the Violence Against Women Act has been effective at national, state, and local levels. This is evidence that more victims are reporting violence.

Research has shown Violence Against Women Act has been effective. Local, State, and national laws are changing. States have passed over 660 domestic violence laws including laws against dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking making them as serious a crime as stranger rape and requiring harsher penalties. Communities and businesses have come together to respond to victim’s needs by creating Employee Assistance Programs, and including allowing time off work in domestic violence related incidences.

What is new in Violence Against Women Act for 2013?
The findings of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women (2013), The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (Campus SaVE Act), effective March 7, 2014, requiring universities to take specific actions to prevent, judicate and eliminate sex crimes on campus and promote platforms of transparency, accountability, education and collaboration. This requires universities to provide accurate annual reports of documented sexual crimes including forcible and non-forcible sex offenses and aggravated assault. Students, faculty, and employees must be provided with printed information concerning accommodations, procedures, and policy that will be made for victims of sexual violence. Accommodation recommendations include direct assistance from campus authorities, adjustments to their schedules and residences to evade hostility, clear descriptions of their schools’ disciplinary policies and contact information for medical, counseling or legal services.

Educational programs instituted for new students, employees, and faculty upon arrival on campus. This is to include prevention and awareness programs, bystander intervention, and signs of dangerous and abusive behavior. This legislation demands that universities abide by minimum standards in legal handling of sex-crime cases. The proceedings must include a thorough and objective investigation, and each party involved has rights to the accompaniment of an adviser and the receipt of printed verdicts at the same time. (National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women (2013)

What provisions are covered for LGBTQH communities?
The LGBTQH community has experienced unique barriers in receiving services for domestic and intimate partner violence (IPV). According to National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (2013), the LGBTQH community experience domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking and dating violence at the same rate as non-LGBTQH victims. Although the rates are, the same, reporting rates and prosecution rates are very low.

In the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs 2010 study, they found that 45% of LGBTQH victims were turned away from domestic violence shelters when seeking help. The study also found many shelters and service providers lack services specific to the needs of LGBTQH victims and lack cultural competency. Nearly 55% of LGBTQH victims who requested protective orders were denied due to the lack of recognition of same-sex partnerships and acknowledgement of protection within the law. All victims deserve services. No program being funded by federal Violence Against Women Act dollars will be allowed to turn away a domestic violence victim because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. (National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 2013)

Provisions to protect Native American victims of domestic violence:
The previous domestic violence laws denied Native women equal access to justice, which is borne out by statistic after statistic: 34% of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes; 17% percent of Native American and Alaskan Native women have been stalked in their lifetime; 39% will be subjected to domestic violence in their lifetimes; and on some reservations, Native women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average.(“National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence,” 2013)

The provisions of Violence Against Women Act 2013 that passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support do not in any way alter or remove the current criminal jurisdiction of the United States or of any state. Rather, it restores concurrent tribal criminal jurisdiction over a very narrow set of crimes that statistics demonstrate are a devastating problem on Indian reservations and simply unacceptable.

The enactment of Violence Against Women Act 2013 is limited to only crimes of domestic violence or dating violence committed in Indian country where the defendant is a spouse or established intimate partner of a tribal member. “It does not permit tribal prosecutions unless the defendant has “sufficient ties to the Indian tribe,” meaning he/she must either reside in the Indian country of the prosecuting tribe, be employed in the Indian country of the prosecuting tribe, or be the spouse or intimate partner of a member of the prosecuting tribe”. (“National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence,” 2013)

This provisions enacted by Violence Against Women Act 2013 for protection of Native women is only a small step in the right direction. More work needs to be done. Must be done.

According Louise Erdrich for the New York Times, “Tribal courts had such jurisdiction until 1978, when the Supreme Court ruled that they did not have inherent jurisdiction to try non-Indians without specific authorization from Congress.” The result has been, according to the 2010 Government Accountability Office report on “Department of Justice Declinations of Indian Country Criminal Matters,” that “67 percent of those criminal matters declined by Department of Justice were sexual abuse and related cases”. (Erdrich, 2013)

The legislation had been routinely reauthorized every five years until last year, when House Republicans objected to new protections for Native Americans, undocumented immigrants and gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual victims. The social mores are slow to change as seen by recent cloture and delay of the reenactment of the Violence Against Women Act of 2013.

Why the Violence Against Women Act is important to me?
I was in Lyman, Wyoming visiting the family cattle ranch for the Fort Bridger Rondevu I had always loved to attend as a little girl and had great memories. Labor Day weekend 1994. I remember it very well as this was the first time I believed I was going to die. I was a 24-year-old expectant mom of 7 months and in a bad marriage. I had never been married and did not know what to expect. I knew my marriage had some problems but I was not aware how bad it was until that night. He had been drinking a lot that day and I knew it was headed in the direction that usually ended badly. I had seen this mood before.

We had returned to our hotel room in Evanston Wyoming after I sat watching him drinking at the familiar biker bar for 6 hours. I became annoyed at every shot, at every beer he drank and his mood became unpredictable and foul. His bar tab had reached what was a little over $300 by the time the bartender cut him off. I had two cokes during that time. I was hungry and waited for him patiently sitting on the bed ready to have that steak dinner with my Wyoming family I had been craving that afternoon.

He stumbled out of the bathroom with a .45 caliber revolver with a leather holster that he had apparently purchased sometime between the Rondevu, the bar, and the hotel.

I still remember the look in his eyes and the sickening smell of booze on his breath as he stood over me with his face 3 inches from mine snarling, “You’re a fucking whore, you bitch.” As he belittled me with hurtful insults, he pulled the gun out of its holster and proceeded to load it with the bullets he had in his right pants pocket .One at a time I watched as he loaded the first bullet, the second, and then a third, flipping the cylinder shut with a snap of his wrist continuing the insults. It seemed to be in slow motion and surreal. Could this really be happening?

He flipped the cylinder open, spun it, and snapped it shut again. He held the gun to his head and said something about roulette. I was in terror and disbelief at what was happening. He pulled the trigger, snap, -no bang. No blood or brains splattered on the hotel’s textured walls. He did not flinch or even close his eyes. He opened the cylinder, spun it, and snapped it closed again as he stared at me- just stared at me! He put the barrel to my head and I felt the cold steel on my forehead. I must have had tears in my eyes. He told me that if I cried he was going to kill me. I was afraid. I had my son inside me- this little person inside me, and I had to be thinking smart.

I did not cry. I had to survive. I had to be smart because I had to survive for my unborn son. I prayed for some help- something to make this stop. Snap. It happened in slow motion. I did not close my eyes. I would not allow myself to close my eyes- even as I watched him pull the trigger. I felt defiant. I wanted him to believe that I did not fear him and that he would be held accountable. I wanted him to know that I would fight him to the end.

My guardian angel must have been listening. It was some kind of divine intervention. The phone rang. It rang twice and stopped. He was distracted for that brief moment and I watched his eyes as the person I recognized return from somewhere inside him. He has never acknowledged what he had done. I have never spoken of it. I have not even spoken of what happened aloud in fear that I may crumble.

I stayed for another 2 years until my second son was born. In June 1996 after numerous similar situations, I finally had the courage to leave and I filed for divorce. Single mom with a 2 year old, a 3 month old, and everything I could pack in three bags. I felt afraid but determined to make a healthier life for my boys and me.

A psychiatrist treating my not quite ex-husband who unbeknownst to me, had been committed to the psychiatric unit contacted me. She urged me to file a protective order immediately before he was discharged from the psych ward. She explained my soon to be ex had disclosed his homicidal intentions- he had plans to kill my two boys, me, and then himself. I felt as though someone had punched me in the stomach.

I did not know what a protective order really was and where to begin. I went to the courthouse for some kind of guidance. I had no idea what I was doing but knew it was urgent. The clerk at the window was so kind. She excitedly explained they had just received funding for a new program called the Violence Against Women Act that could help me. She made one phone call and within 10 minutes, I was sitting down with the woman who would help me reclaim my life and freedom from fear. Her official title was Domestic Violence Advocate. She walked me through the entire process- from filling out the court paperwork to holding my hand while the judge ordered my protective order be granted. She gave me strength when I felt weak. I can never thank her enough. What I can do is continue to do what she had done for me and others- to fight for the Violence Against Women Act legislation. To demand protection from all forms of violence and harm- for all people- from government, legislation, and law makers. No one should be a victim of violence.

Since passage of the Violence against Women Act in 1994, the annual rates of domestic violence have dropped by 64% percent. In spite of this progress, domestic violence still occurs at alarming rates and too often becomes lethal. On average, three women a day die because of domestic violence, and for every woman killed in a domestic violence homicide, nine more are critically injured. (White House, 2013)

Violence occurs among people of all races, ages, sex, socio-economic classes, religious affiliations, occupations, and educational backgrounds.


Erdrich, L. (2013, February 26). Rape on the Reservation [Opinion]. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Lemon, N. (1996). Domestic Violence Law: A Comprehensive Overview of Cases and Sources. San Francisco, CA: Austin and Winfield.

Martin, D. (1976). Battered Wives. New York: Pocket Books.

Reauthorization Act of 2013, S. Res. S. 47, 113th Cong., S. 47, 113th Congressional Record 1-107 (2013) (enacted).

S. Doc. No. The Response to rape: detours on the road to equal justice: a majority staff report prepared for the use of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundred Third Congress, first session, Volume 4 at 1-26 (1993).

Schecter, S. (1982). Women and Male Violence. MA: South End Press.

Summary of Changes from VAWA Reauthorization 2013. (2013). Retrieved from

The History of the Violence Against Women Act. (2009). Retrieved from

White House (2013). The Obama Administration’s Commitment to Reducing Domestic Violence Homicides[Fact Sheet]. Retrieved from

About the Author: Melissa Fritz Fuller was a police officer for over twelve years; three of those years assigned as an agent to the Iron/Garfield Counties Narcotics Task Force. She was awarded the ”Officer of the Year” in 2009 by the Utah Narcotics Officers of Utah.   Iron/Garfield Counties Narcotics Task Force also received “Agency of the Year” that same year because of the extensive investigation, arrests, and confiscation of the largest marijuana grow operation to that date in the State of Utah. 

 After her best friend, Deputy Josie Greathouse Fox was murdered during a traffic stop, and the multiple traumas and hazards on the job, Melissa was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was consequently fired from her department as a result of the misunderstanding, stigma, and misconceptions of PTSD and lack of understanding of this very treatable disorder. 

 Melissa has returned to school after almost twenty years and currently attends Southern Utah University.  As a senior, her field of interest and study is Sociology, Anthropology, Women and Gender Studies, and Criminal Justice.

 She is currently married to a wonderful and supportive husband, Jed Fuller. She has three sons, Zeke (19), Dax (16), and KC (16), and two dogs, Otto Von Cooper (a pug) and Guiness (a black lab).  

Her passion is to advocate for women, transparency in government, the education, needed resources, and elimination of  PTSD and mental health stigmas, equal representation of minorities, and under-represented demographics.

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