Federal Laws Pertaining to Domestic Violence
In simple terms, the job of the U.S. Congress is to enact laws and write regulations to say how federal agencies should implement the laws. Congress also has to appropriate funds to make sure there is money to do what the law requires. Without funding, domestic violence victims and their families may not get the services and protections they are entitled to.
VAWA includes dozens of grant programs that fund thousands of programs. These various programs and the amounts of funding for each are detailed in the NNEDV’s annual Briefing Book.
The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)
The 1984 Victims of Crime Act established the Crime Victims Fund, which is financed by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders, not from tax dollars. For the first 15 years of the Fund’s existence, the total deposits for each fiscal year were distributed the following year to support services to crime victims.
Starting in 2000, in response to large fluctuations in deposits, Congress placed a cap on funds available for distribution. These annual caps were intended to maintain the Fund as a stable source of support for future victim services. The cap was set at $705 million for FY 2010.
The text of the federal statute for VOCA is available here:
The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA)
FVPSA, first enacted in 1984, provides funding for core domestic violence services such as shelter and counseling. It is the only federal funding source dedicated solely to domestic violence services and programs. The text of FVPSA is available here:
Pennsylvania Laws Relevant to Domestic Violence
The Address Confidentiality Program that provides a secret and confidential address for a victim to use. According to the ACP law, an applicant must be a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or a person who lives in the same household as the victim. The Office of the Victim Advocate (OVA) manages this Program, but applicants must apply at a local domestic violence, rape crisis or victim-witness program. For more information about the ACP
- ACP Law
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The Child Protective Services Law (23 Pa. C.S. § 6311) requires a person, who suspects – because of their work – that a child under their care or supervision is a victim of child abuse, to report that suspected abuse to state officials. A person working in a domestic violence program is required to make such a report and will not be breaking the victim’s confidentiality to do so. It is important that victims of domestic violence and domestic violence advocates understand the requirements of this law and what happens if they violate it. PCADV provides training and technical assistance for domestic violence advocates and others on the issue of mandated child abuse reporting. For more information or training on the requirements for reporting child abuse, please contact PCADV.
- Child Abuse Law
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The Stalking Law, 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709.1, defines stalking as a serious crime in Pennsylvania. There are two basic elements to the crime:
- The stalker must complete at least two acts of unwanted stalking behavior, no matter how close or far apart in time they are, and
- The victim must experience reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or substantial emotional distress.
- Stalking Law
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For more information on Stalking, visit the Stalking page on this website.
Child Custody (23 PA C.S. §§5321 – 40)
Pennsylvania’s child custody law was amended in 2010 and still requires courts to make decisions based on the best interest of the child. The new law provides the court with a list of 16 factors to consider in making its decision. It directs the court to give weighted consideration to anything affecting the safety of the child, including the present and past abuse of each parent and members of the parents’ households. The law also provides strict guidance to any person who wishes to relocate to a new home with the child if that move would take away from the other parent’s ability to see the child. Failure to follow these guidelines and get the approval of the other parent or the court before moving could have negative consequences for the relocating party. The court is directed to consider the best interest of the child in making its decision to approve the request for relocation and must give weighted consideration to any fact that affects the safety of the child. While the new law makes the safety of the child a priority, it can be a difficult law to understand. For that reason, those involved in custody matters are encouraged to seek the advice of a lawyer or legal clinic so they can understand how the law might apply to their situations.
A User-Friendly Guide to Pennsylvania's New Child Custody Law compares the law before 2010 to the current law. The Custody page provides more information on custody related to domestic violence.
- Custody Law
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- A User-Friendly Guide to Pennsylvania's New Child Custody Law
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Jen and Dave’s Law (Act 119 of 1996)
Act 119 of 1996 established the nation’s first statewide, automated telephone system for providing criminal charge information for individuals involved in custody cases. The goal of the Jen & Dave Program is to protect Pennsylvania’s children by making it easier for parents to obtain criminal information about other people involved in their child custody case.
Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services
Grants for Domestic Violence & Rape Crisis Services
Senate Bill 71 of 1981 is the law that first authorized the Commonwealth to make grants for domestic violence and rape crisis services. The current version of the law is now part of the Administrative Code.
- Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services
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Marriage License Fees to Support Domestic Violence Services (House Bill 1983 of 1990) is the law passed in 1990 that authorized the $10 surcharge on marriage licenses that is dedicated to domestic violence services. While the full text of the Act no longer appears in Pennsylvania Statutes, this Act provides funds for domestic violence services from monies collected for marriage license fees.
Financial Assistance to Victims of Crime
The Pennsylvania Victims Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP) was established by Act 139 of 1976. The program helps victims and their families by paying for a variety of expenses, such as, medical and counseling expenses, loss of earnings, loss of support, stolen cash, relocation, funeral, or crime scene cleanup. A victim of crime can apply for this assistance with help from a victim advocate at a local Victim Service Program or by filing a claim online.
Health Care Response Act
House Bill 2268 of 1998 provides for screening of patients for symptoms of domestic violence; established the Domestic Violence Health Care Response Program in the Department of Public Welfare; and provides for domestic violence medical advocacy projects to assist in implementation of domestic violence policies, procedures, health care worker training and hospital, health center and clinic response to domestic violence victims. The Act is codified in law as 35 P.S. § 7661 et seq. 2011.
- Health Care Response Act
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Protection From Abuse
Protection From Abuse Act
23 Pa. C.S. Section 6101 et seq. or Act 66 of 2005 is the state law that provides for Protection From Abuse (PFA) Orders to safeguard victims and their children from a family or household member who is abusing them. The law also provides for absolute confidentiality between a victim and a domestic violence counselor/advocate. For more information on the PFA Act, see the Protection From Abuse page.
- PFA Act
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Unfair Insurance Practices Act
40 P.S. §§ 1171.1-1171.14 Amendments to this Act in 1996 and 2006 prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage or benefits to victims of domestic violence for life, health, disability, homeowners and auto insurance.
- Unfair Insurance Practices Act
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Teen Dating Violence
Teen Dating Violence Education in Schools
School-age youths are experiencing violence in their dating relationships at alarming rates. In 2010 Pennsylvania’s legislature passed a law, 24 P.S. § 15-1553 (2011), that permits schools to adopt a policy that addresses incidents of dating violence at school and to provide training and education to high school guidance counselors, nurses and other staff as well as parents. Schools may also provide dating violence education to students in grades nine through twelve as part of the school health curriculum. PCADV can provide school personnel, parents and other interested people with training, technical assistance and resources about dating violence, developing a school policy, and research-based curricula, and how dating violence must be addressed in our schools, homes and communities.
- Dating Violence Law
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Abigail Hurst, LSW
Contact for information about PCADV’s Public Policy work
PCADV’s Goals – Funding for Victims
At the federal level, PCADV’s primary legislative goals are to:
Fully fund the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA)
Reauthorize and fully fund the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
Protect and increase the cap on the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)
The federal appropriations process can be complicated, and the timeline for advocating on these federal legislative goals depends on where Congress is in the process Congress at any particular time. To learn more about the budget and appropriations process, along with the timeline for action, download the Overview of the Budget Process – State and Federal.
- Overview of the Budget Process - State and Federal
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Pending Federal Legislation
Reauthorizing VAWA was our most pressing current priority at the federal level in 2013 - and thanks to you, we did it! President Obama signed the reauthorization of VAWA to provide funding and programs to protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.