What You Need to Know About the Reauthorization of The Violence Against Women Act of 1994


What You Need to Know About the Reauthorization of The Violence Against Women Act of 1994

Amanda Norris Ames, Frank J. Brancely, Kai W. McGintee

What’s Happening

On March 10, 2022, the United States Senate reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA” or “the Act”) through 2027, which was later signed into law by President Biden. The reauthorization coincides with reports of alarming spikes in domestic violence and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on students. The Act contains a multi-pronged approach to strengthening rape prevention and education efforts at institutions of higher education. Here are the major highlights:

The Act incorporates modern practices in its scope and programs.

  • Defines restorative justice and creates new community-based training and programs.
  • Includes an enhanced definition of domestic violence, recognizing verbal, psychological, economic, and technological abuse.

The Act invests in victim-centered training and grant programming.

  • Extends the Rape Prevention and Education grant program.
  • Provides funding for trauma-informed care training for law enforcement on college campuses.

The Act introduces a required campus survey.

  • Requires that the Secretary of Education (“the Secretary”) develop an online survey tool tracking postsecondary student experiences with sexual misconduct and sexual violence.
  • Requires institutions of higher education to administer the survey to their students, the results of which will be published to Congress every two years.

What does the reauthorization mean for your campus?

Expanded Access to Grants

  • Grants are available to professionals, including “school-based professionals,” that can help refer students to victim services. Note: The Act reinstates lapsed funding provisions of VAWA, so grant proposals with deadlines quickly approaching are unlikely to be impacted.

Expanded Training Potential 

  • The Act expands training for school staff and campus health centers to help meet the needs of young victims of violence, including training related to the use of victim-centered, trauma-informed interview techniques.

Practical Advice: Learn, Understand, Comply

1. Learn about the Act’s commitment to using restorative practices.

The Act defines “restorative practices” and allocates grant funding for schools to implement a pilot program. Restorative practices aim to provide effective alternatives to Title IX adjudication. The primary goal of restorative practices is to facilitate accountability of individuals who have caused harm so that they may understand the impact and take responsibility for their actions. When implementing restorative practices, make sure you are doing so in compliance with the Department of Education’s (“the ED”) 2020 Title IX File Rule and related evolving guidance. We strongly encourage you to consult with our Investigations & Resolutions Team to learn about the Act’s new commitment to restorative practices and how your institution can benefit from implementing this approach.

2. Understand how trauma-informed care training will benefit campus law enforcement and campus investigators.

The Act provides funding for trauma-informed care training for law enforcement on college campuses. The Act adds a provision to the Rape Prevention and Education grant program that institutions train campus personnel in how to use victim-centered, trauma-informed interview techniques. This means that personnel should ask reported victims of sexual misconduct questions that are focused on the experience of the reported victim, that do not judge or blame the reported victim for the alleged wrongdoing, and that are informed by evidence-based research on trauma response. The provision also provides that, to the extent practicable, campus personnel shall allow the reported victim to participate in a recorded interview and to receive a copy of the recorded interview. We strongly encourage you to consult with our Investigations & Resolutions Team for the latest and best practices on trauma-informed training and techniques that will help your institution conduct more thorough and objective investigations.

3. Understand that VAWA now incorporates “technological abuse.”

The Act extends the Rape Prevention and Education grant program to institutions that provide accessible prevention and educational programming to address the problem of “technological abuse.” The Act defines “technological abuse” as “an act or pattern of behavior that occurs within domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking and is intended to harm, threaten, intimidate, control, stalk, harass, impersonate, exploit, extort, or monitor, except as otherwise permitted by law, another person, that occurs using any form of technology…” Our Investigations & Resolutions Team regularly encounters technological abuse issues on campuses, and we are acutely aware of how emerging platforms, devices, and spaces are used (and abused) to perpetuate misconduct. You should review your institution’s student misconduct policy with an eye toward incorporating language that prohibits what the Act defines as “technological abuse.” Our Team can help you to craft a policy that aligns with VAWA’s most recent expansion.

4. Understand the work delegated to the Task Force on Sexual Violence in Education (“Task Force”).

The Task Force will be established by September 2022 and will provide the federal government with information related to campus sexual violence prevention, investigations, and responses. The Task Force will also recommend ways in which educational institutions may establish sexual assault prevention and response teams, taking into account an institution’s size and resources. The Task Force will submit to Congress and to the public an annual report of the number of complaints of sexual violence it has received, including the number of investigations that are open or that have reached an informed resolution. The annual report will also include information related to the average time taken to complete investigations. The Task Force will assess the ED’s ability to levy fines for non-compliance with Title IX. In sum, VAWA is expected to expand the ED’s enforcement staffing and authority, and VAWA is now well-positioned to be a catalyst for additional remedies for noncompliance. Our Investigations & Resolutions Team is monitoring ongoing developments related to this Task Force and looks forward to sharing its findings and recommendations.

5. Comply with and administer the uniform campus climate survey (and provide input into its design!).

The Act provides that the Secretary, in consultation with other federal government officials and experts, will develop and implement a survey tool to track experiences of sexual violence among postsecondary students. This survey will be designed with the input of institutions that receive federal educational assistance, and modifications to the survey may be made available to institutions subject to the review and approval of the Secretary. Assuming your institution receives federal education assistance, your institution will be required to administer the survey within a year after the survey has been made available and every two years thereafter. Our Investigations & Resolutions Team is monitoring survey development and can provide additional details regarding survey input, development, and administration as they become available.

As we learn more about VAWA’s reauthorization and what it will mean for our clients, our Investigations & Resolutions Team will update this guidance.