Congress Passes Violence Against Women Act, Other Crucial Legislation to Support Survivors

President Biden has signed into law the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2022 (VAWA), critical bipartisan legislation to ensure legal protections for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

 

VAWA was initially signed into law in 1994 and was reauthorized several times before it was allowed to expire in 2018. In addition to renewing many critical programs, the latest version of VAWA provides unprecedented support for survivors of sexual violence in Native Alaskan and tribal communities, giving them jurisdiction to prosecute non-tribal offenders who sexually assault tribal members. In addition, the bill provides increased protections for LGBTQ+ communities, including a new grant program. VAWA also incorporates provisions from many bills that RAINN has been lobbying for, including the Survivors’ Access To Supportive Care Act (SASCA), the Support Access to Nurse Exams Act (SANE Act), and the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act.

 

The SANE Act, a major RAINN legislative priority, will help ensure that survivors of sexual violence not only get the medical attention they need but also the opportunity to effectively seek justice, if they decide to do so, through the proper collection of evidence with the support of trauma-informed sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs). SANEs are registered nurses that complete specialized training and provide comprehensive health care to survivors of sexual assault. They perform the rape kit exams (also known as sexual assault forensic exams). 

Across the United States, there is an extreme shortage of SANEs. Survivors in most rural communities must travel hours to access a SANE after being assaulted. In Alaska, some survivors report that they must take two airplanes and travel 15 hours to access a SANE. According to the International Association of Forensic Nurses, only 17-20% of American hospitals have SANEs on staff. 

The SANE Act:

  • Provides $30 million in federal grant funding for SANE salaries for rural, tribal, and underserved communities.
  • Establishes regional training centers to provide critical clinical experience for SANEs before they are sent into rural areas.
  • Provides funding to increase availability for pediatric nurses.
  • Provides funding for mobile SANE units.

Congress also recently passed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, RAINN-supported legislation that will put an end to the use of forced arbitration for workers who are victims of sexual assault or harassment. Ending forced arbitration is a critical step to remove one of the many barriers survivors face in coming forward and seeking justice. The bill was signed into law by President Biden on March 3.

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