Widener Panel Talks About Joe Biden’s Domestic Violence Law

When then-Sen. Joe Biden’s office drafted the Violence Against Women Act, domestic violence was rarely talked about and was often thought to be a private, family matter.

Now, 20 years after VAWA was signed into law, a panel of Vice President Biden’s former and current counselors said the public’s perception has changed, but more work needs to be done to expand funding and services under the act.

“What used to be a dirty little secret you didn’t talk about, now is public, said Claire DeMatteis, former senior counsel to Biden.

The panel spoke as part of Widener University School of Law’s full-day symposium about family health law and domestic violence on Friday.

DeMatteis explained that the idea for VAWA first arose in 1989 when Biden was reading FBI reports. Seeing a trend of domestic violence, Biden asked his senior counsel at the time, Victoria Nourse, to make drafting related legislation a priority.

Nourse was initially scheduled to be on Friday’s panel, but could not attend due to a conflict. Carrie Bettinger-Lopez, the White House’s adviser on violence against women and a senior adviser to Biden, came in her place.

When VAWA was first signed into law in 1994, it provided federal funding to combat domestic violence and investigate and prosecute these crimes. The act also established the Office of Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice.

Biden has called the federal law his “proudest legislative accomplishment.”

VAWA has faced many challenges over the years.

The Supreme Court struck down in 2000 a provision of the law that allowed women to sue their attackers in federal court.

VAWA, which must be reauthorized every five years, saw little opposition in 2000 and 2005, but when it was up for renewal in 2012, Republicans opposed provisions allowing battered undocumented immigrants to claim temporary visas and opposed protections for same-sex couples.

The law was reauthorized in 2013 but has seen funding cuts. It currently provides $1.6 billion to 24 grant programs.

“There were partisan-driven budget cuts that dramatically hurt these programs,” said panelist Lynn Rosenthal, a former senior advisor to Biden and the first-ever White House advisor on violence against women. “If we care about violence against women, then we’ve got to put the real dollars to it.”

Lopez said in the future VAWA may be expanded internationally and may hold systems accountable for protecting women, especially in the case of sexual assaults on college campuses.

Contact Jessica Masulli Reyes at 302-324-2777, jmreyes@delawareonline.com or Twitter @JessicaMasulli.