Violence Legislation at the Federal and State Level

Federal and State Legislation

Domestic Violence Legislation at the Federal and State Level

Domestic violence is considered any violent act taken against someone involved in an intimate or family relationship (Eulich, 2013). It is a serious problem with countless victims each year. In 1994, Congress passed the United States Crime Bill which gave power to the federal government to help combat domestic violence, in particular violence against women and children. Specifically, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was created to address this problem which is considered to not only hurt victims, but also damage families, children and society as a whole (Eulich, 2013). The Act mandates that such crimes may be prosecuted by the Department of Justice and that the Gun Control Act (that existed as part of the federal Crime Bill) be extended to include issues related to domestic violence crimes. This VAWA gives the federal government a platform for prosecuting offenders to the fullest extent of the law in certain cases.

The VAWA defines abuse as anything related to personal injury, harassment, intimidation, excessive force, kidnapping, and threats that create a reasonable fear of death. It also covers the subjects of firearms and forced interstate travel. Intimate partners can be a spouse, former spouse, past or present cohabitant or parents of a child in common. It is important to note that girlfriends and boyfriends that have never cohabitated are not included in every instance, however. Immediate family is most often considered spouses, parents, siblings, children, family relations established through bloodlines or marriage, and people who may share a household.

In regards to issues of interstate travel, the VAWA calls out interstate travel with the intent to commit a domestic violence crime as illegal. It also states that it’s illegal to force or coerce someone else across state lines with this intent. This is important for helping battered women relocate themselves and their children to safety. Interstate stalking was added as a violation in 1996 as was travel out of state in order to violate an order of protection that has been issued in another state. For instance, in Tennessee an abusive ex-husband may be prohibited through an order of protection from contacting his former wife. If he learns that she will be in New York for work or a vacation, he cannot attempt to follow her and make contact there. The order of protection from Tennessee would still stand.

Further, because there have been so many instances of domestic violence involving women and children that also involve firearms, the VAWA has special restrictions in this area. If someone is subject to an order of protection or restraining order, they are prohibited from possessing a firearm while the order is in effect. This is to help ensure that incidents of domestic violence to do escalate to an extent that could result in a death by gunfire. When combined with restraining orders, the firearm provisions of the VAWA work to discourage extreme violence against women and children. Anyone who violates these laws could face up to 10 years imprisonment (Eulich, 2013).

Federal domestic violence statues support state and local laws in order to fight against domestic violence. Domestic violence is such a significant problem that federal laws are necessary to help guide state and local legislative action. The idea is collaboration between all groups, but with the power and influence of the Department of Justice as a foundation. Often federal laws help serve as a blueprint. In the state of Illinois, law makers created the Illinois Domestic Violence Act (IDVA) to allow abuse sufferers to go to court to obtain orders of protection without notice to the offending party. This is important because the idea of no contact order gives many victims more courage to come forward. If the abuser were to find out about the impending legal action, they might inflict even more harm on them.

Similar to the definitions used in the VAWA, the IDVA defines abuse in broad terms such as physical abuse, harassment, intimidation, deprivation of food or shelter, harassment, withholding children, threatening physical force, creating a disturbance at the victim’s place of employment by phone or in person, creating a disturbance at the victim’s home or residence, and stalking behavior (Eulich, 2013). Under the IDVA, orders of protection are considered to be the first step towards relief and protection. They can prevent an abuser from continuing threats and abuse, bar them from a home that is shared with the victim, require them to get treatment or counseling, prevent children from being taken out of state, grant temporary legal custody of the kids to the safest parent, and help protect personal property.

Different states do things in different ways with different punishments as well. However, stiffer sentences and restrictions are almost always enforced if there is evidence of repeated abuse, drugs, alcohol, and sexual abuse or if minor children are involved. Whether a federal or state domestic violence issue, the accused also have rights, namely to be heard at a court hearing.

Whenever possible, both federal and state legislation try to keep families together and focus on rehabilitation. Examples of federal legislative action against domestic violence include the VAWA as described above and The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) which supports victims and children who need help and also offers communities violence prevention education. ( (

Examples of state legislative action in response to domestic violence include the Primary Domestic Violence Prevention Law of Massachusetts which operates very similar to the IDVA. Also, the Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Act of Michigan is a great example of state support for victims. It seeks to protect women and children from harm by setting aside funds for escape from abusive households, placement in shelters, funding assistance for permanent relocation and also much needed counseling services. ( (


Eulich, W. (2013, February 13). In U.S., big strides in reducing domestic violence. Christian Science Monitor. p. N.PAG.

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