On March 7, 2013, President Obama signed the updated Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”). VAWA provides legal protections for survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and child abuse. Without such legal protections, it would be difficult for the Legal Aid to assist some of its most vulnerable clients in getting the Civil Protection Orders as well as the employment and housing that they need to escape violent and unsafe living situations. VAWA also provides funding for programs that provide critical resources for survivors of domestic violence including emergency housing, legal services and counseling. In particular, Sections 102 and 103 of the VAWA allow for specific grants for the enforcement of protection orders and pro bono legal assistance for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. The updated VAWA expands these protections to include immigrant, Native American and LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
The reauthorization of the VAWA could not have come at a more important time as domestic violence continues to impact the D.C. community. A recent article in the Washington Post highlights the importance of the enforcement of protection orders and how quickly a domestic violence incident can escalate into a very dangerous situation. Legal Aid has recently experienced an increased need for legal services related to domestic violence. Between 2011 and 2012, there was a 19% increase in legal services provided to domestic violence survivors through the Legal Aid’s Southeast Domestic Violence Intake Center (DVIC-SE) project which mainly serves Wards 7 & 8 in the District of Columbia. In addition, in 2012, the Legal Aid opened another intake center in the District of Columbia Superior Court to meet the needs of underserved populations in other wards. Legal Aid provides free legal services for men, women and children within the District who are survivors of domestic violence, including immigrants and members of the LGBT community. It is wonderful to see the VAWA reflect the realities on the ground by expanding its protections to all people.