Skip to main content

What is the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA)?

This federal law was originally intended to change attitudes toward domestic violence, foster awareness of domestic violence, improve services and provisions for victims, and revise the manner in which the criminal justice system responds to domestic violence and sex crimes. VAWA primarily addresses certain types of violent crime through grant programs to state, tribal, and local governments; nonprofit organizations; and colleges and universities. VAWA programs target the crimes of intimate partner violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Since its passage in 1994, VAWA has been modified and reauthorized three times, most recently in 2013 with the passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013; P.L. 113-4) that reauthorized most of the programs under VAWA.


The Act requires colleges and universities receiving federal funding to:

  • Maintain statistics about the number of incidents of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking that meet the definitions of those terms;

  • Clarify the very limited circumstances in which an institution may remove reports of crimes that have been “unfounded” and require institutions to report to the Department and disclose in the annual security report the number of “unfounded” crime reports;

  • Revise the definition of “rape” to reflect the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) updated definition in the UCR Summary Reporting System, which encompasses the categories of rape, sodomy, and sexual assault with an object that are used in the UCR National Incident-Based Reporting System;

  • Revise the categories of bias for the purposes of Clery Act hate crime reporting to add gender identity and to separate ethnicity and national origin into separate categories;

  • Provide to incoming students and new employees and describe in their annual security reports primary prevention and awareness programs. These programs must include: a statement that the institution prohibits the crimes of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, as those terms are defined in these final regulations; the definitions of these terms in the applicable jurisdiction; the definition of “consent,” in reference to sexual activity, in the applicable jurisdiction; a description of safe and positive options for bystander intervention; information on risk reduction; and information on the institution's policies and procedures after a sex offense occurs;

  • Provide, and describe in their annual security reports, ongoing prevention and awareness campaigns for students and employees. These campaigns must include the same information as the institution's primary prevention and awareness program; Define the terms “awareness programs,” “bystander intervention,” “ongoing prevention and awareness campaigns,” “primary prevention programs,” and “risk reduction;”

  • Describe each type of disciplinary proceeding used by the institution; the steps, anticipated timelines, and decision-making process for each type of disciplinary proceeding; how to file a disciplinary complaint; and how the institution determines which type of proceeding to use based on the circumstances of an allegation of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;

  • List all of the possible sanctions that the institution may impose following the results of any institutional disciplinary proceedings for an allegation of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;

  • Describe the range of protective measures that the institution may offer following an allegation of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;

  • Provide for a prompt, fair, and impartial disciplinary proceeding in which: (1) Officials are appropriately trained and do not have a conflict of interest or bias for or against the accuser or the accused; (2) the accuser and the accused have equal opportunities to have others present, including an advisor of their choice; (3) the accuser and the accused receive simultaneous notification, in writing, of the result of the proceeding and any available appeal procedures; (4) the proceeding is completed in a reasonably prompt time frame; (5) the accuser and accused are given timely notice of meetings at which one or the other or both may be present; and (6) the accuser, the accused, and appropriate officials are given timely and equal access to information that will be used during informal and formal disciplinary meetings and hearings; Define the terms “proceeding” and “result”; and

  • Specify that compliance with these provisions does not constitute a violation of section 444 of the General Education Provisions Act (20 U.S.C. 1232g), commonly known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA).