VAWA: What is the Violence Against Women Act and how does it protect me?

Violence against women is one of the most serious social problems of the world nowadays. That is why it is very important that there are laws such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which seeks to protect women who are victims of sexual and domestic violence in the US.

We encourage you to continue reading and find out what VAWA is and, if you or someone you know of is a victim of this type of violence, find out how to get help.

What is violence against women?

Violence against women is defined by the United Nations (UN) as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.”

Types of violence against women

There are two main forms of violence against women

Sexual Violence

It involves any sexual act - or the attempt to consume it - by physical and/or psychological force, regardless of the type of relationship that the aggressor has with the victim. Some examples of sexual violence include:

  • rape, which consists of forced penetration with the penis, another part of the body or any object.
  • an attempt to rape
  • unwanted sexual contact
  • other forms of non-contact sexual violence (psychological)

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is any behavior whose purpose is to gain power and control over a spouse, partner, girlfriend / boyfriend or family member, and it is the most common type of violence against women. It consists of the constant repetition of a series of attacks against women such as:

  • Physical assault: pinching, slapping, kicking or punching.
  • Psychological abuse: intimidation, threats, diminishing, and constant humiliation.
  • Forced actions: forced sexual relations and other forms of sexual pressure.
  • Various dominant behaviors: isolating the person from family or friends, monitoring their activities, restricting access to information or healthcare.

These forms of violence against women often have serious consequences for the victims physical and mental health, such as fatigue, depression or even recurrent suicidal thoughts.

What you should know: Both sexual and domestic violence can also occur from women to men and same-sex couples. However, statistically it is provable that these forms of violence are to be exercised from a man to a woman. This is why international organizations, such as the UN and the US government, have focused on assisting women victims of violence, although without neglecting other possible victims.

What is VAWA?

The Violence Against Women Act was approved in September 1994, after it was first proposed in 1990 by the now president Joe Biden -who was senator at the time- when violence against women was considered a family matter and few congressmen did anything to try to solve this societal problem. Since the beginning, VAWA’s main goals have been to provide security and protect the civil rights of victims of violence against women. However, over the years, various civil organizations and some congressmen realized that VAWA was not solving the problem of all the victims of violence against women, so they decided to expand it.

It was in February of 2013 that the United States Congress approved the expansion of VAWA.Thanks to this, the safety and rights of victims that were not contemplated before, such as members of indigenous groups, LGBTQ groups and people without legal status, were guaranteed.

Who is protected by the VAWA?

As we have mentioned before, the main victims of domestic violence tend to be women, which is why VAWA has focused on their protection. However, because in many domestic violence situations there may be other victims, the VAWA can also protect:

  • people from indigineous communities in the US
  • people from the LGBTQ community
  • people who are undocumented
  • children of aggressors and/or victims of domestic violence
  • parents of aggressors and/or victims of domestic violence

How does the VAWA protect?

The support and protection services that VAWA offers to the victims of violence against women are:

  • free medical exams in rape situations;
  • legal assistance for survivors of violence against women;
  • free legal services for civil protection order or prosecutions;
  • programs and services for victims with disabilities;
  • support services for children and adolescent victims of domestic violence;
  • protection for victims of violence against women that have been evicted from their homes;
  • programs to protect and meet the needs of immigrant victims and victims of different races and ethnicities;
  • the possibility of applying for an Immigrant Visa for victim without legal status;
  • the possibility of applying for Permanent Residence for victims of domestic violence.

Who is eligible to apply for an Immigrant Visa and/or Permanent Residence?

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You may be eligible to apply for an Immigrant Visa and the Permanent Residence, under Violence Against Women Act, if you are a spouse, parent, or child of an abuser who has a US citizenship or is a permanent resident.


You can apply if you are, or were, the spouse of a citizen or resident and received abuse from them. Additionally, you can file it if any of your children have been abused by your spouse with citizenship or residence. You can include your unmarried children under the age of 21 (in case you didn’t apply individually).


You can apply if any of your children have a US citizenship and you have been abused by him/her.


If you are under the age of 21 and have been a victim of abuse on behalf of your mother/father, you can apply on your own. You can also file before your 25th birthday, as long as you can provide proof that the main reason for the delay in applying was because of abuse by your mother/father.

What are the requirements to apply for Permanent Residence by VAWA?

Thanks to VAWA, if you are a spouse, parent or child victim of domestic violence, you can apply for Permanent Residence on your own if you meet the following requirements:

  • Properly file for Form I-485, Application for Registration of Permanent Residence or Adjust Status and the other documents that are requested by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • Be physically present in the US to file Form I-485.
  • You must be eligible to receive an Immigrant Visa (at the time you file your Form I-485, the USCIS will make a final decision regarding your application and may give you an immigrant visa)
  • The USCIS should not apply any of the admissibility vetoes to your request to change status.

What you should know: Take into account that to obtain a Permanent Resident Card you must also submit Form I-360, which is required for all applicants. If you or your spouse had already filed Form I-360, you don’t have to wait for it to be approved to file Form I-485. For more information about this, you can check out the USCIS site.

How to apply for Permanent Residence through VAWA?

If you decided to apply for Permanent Residence under the provision of the Violence Against Women Act, keep in mind that you must submit the following list of documents, in addition to Form I-485:

Links to ask for help or advice

If you are a female victim of violence, remember that you are not alone! Fortunately, there are many civil and governmental organizations that can help you legally for free or at a low cost. Some of these organizations are:

  • OASH - The Office on Women’s Health of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Their victim helpline is 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233).
  • Raíces - It is located in San Antonio, Texas and their contact number is 1-800-409-2893.
  • Kids in Need of Defense - Better known as by its acronym KIND, and has offices in Texas, California, Washington and New York. You can contact them by calling (202) 824-8680.
  • Tahirih Justice Center - You can find their offices in Baltimore, Houston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Their nationwide number is (571) 282-6161.
  • National Immigration Justice Center - It is a national organization in which you can make an appointment by calling (312) 660-1370.
  • Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights - They have locations in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago, Houston and New York. Their nationwide phone number is (773) 360-8920.
If you have any further questions on this topic, please consider contacting us through the free SABEResPODER chat line. Remember that we are always here to help you.