According to 2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives. Many others suffer from intimate partner violence or stalking. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a United States law that extends protections to women (and men) in the United States who are victims of such abuse. VAWA was passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000, 2005, and 2013. Since its passage, the law has established new federal crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking; provided more support to domestic violence shelters; created collaboration between criminal justice, social service, and non-profit entities; and developed legal assistance programs for victims.
The VAWA coalition that the U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs (OPA) was involved with in the 1990s (representing more than 100 organizations) was called the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women. This Task Force had a primary role in establishing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The OPA representative served on an “International Violence” committee for the above Task Force and helped organize a panel of experts to appear before the Congressional Women’s Caucus in March 2000. This work involved the research and study of topics such as honor crimes, trafficking of women, and domestic violence.
OPA has worked alongside other like-minded organizations to raise Congressional awareness about the need to reauthorize VAWA. It actively participates, for example, in the Interfaith Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which advocates for policies and programs to curtail these forms of violence. This coalition comprises more than 20 faith organizations, which represents millions of believers, including the Baha’is. The Coalition “shares a commitment to effect positive change and to advocate, with a collective voice, for national legislation and policies that protect all people from domestic violence, with particular concern for women and children.”
OPA also helped to organize a screening in 2013 of the award-winning documentary “The Invisible War,” which addresses the incidence of sexual abuse in the U.S. military.
In working with its own membership, the Baha’i Office has spearheaded efforts to compile a handbook on domestic violence that has been used within the national Baha’i community as an educational tool. Portions of this handbook have also been used by other organizations in their own work. And, finally, the Office reaches out to Baha’is nationally to participate in activities related to National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is observed every October.
For more information regarding VAWA, view the Frequently Asked Questions page of our website.