Federal Domestic Violence Legislation: The Violence Against Women Act

• The Violence Against Women Act passed in 1996 is seen as a landmark legislation in the fight against domestic violence. This federal law provided new protections to domestic violence victims including confidentiality of address and also changed the immigration laws to allow an alien battered spouse to apply for a green card.

• This Act defines domestic violence as a crime “committed by an intimate partner, parent, or guardian of the victim that required the use or attempted use of physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon” An intimate partner could be an existing or a former spouse, cohabitant, or dating partner.

• This Act also deals with the issue of abusers traveling to another state to commit acts of domestic violence or violation protective orders. A person convicted of domestic violence cannot follow the victim to another state or compel the victim to relocate to another state. Prior to this Act, protective orders from one jurisdiction was not usually recognized and enforced by other jurisdictions. This Act requires states to give full faith and credit to protective orders passed by other states. As of date, 47 states have laws that recognize protective orders passed by courts in other states. The remaining three states – Pennsylvania, Montana and Alaska require the out of state protective order to be filed in a state court before enforcement.

• Many landmark cases have been heard under this new law. The case of United States v. Rita Gluzman involved the case of a woman traveling to New York from New Jersey to kill her husband. She was convicted for the murder of her husband. In United States v. Mark A. Sterkel, the defendant traveled from Utah to Arizona to threaten a former boss and was convicted for interest stalking.

• The Act also allows domestic abuse victims to file civil lawsuits for compensation. However the Supreme Court over turned this provision through its judgment in Brzonkala v. Morrison (2000) holding that the Congress had no authority to implement such a law.

• The Act also aims to influence state law makers especially on the need to have an arrest policy for domestic violence calls. The Act made it necessary for the states to adopt certain responses in order to receive federal funding. This Act is seen as a catalyst in state domestic violence legislation.

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