Story by: John L. Finley
Unfortunately, the story going around is fake news, and it has created a lot of unnecessary panic. The definitions of sexual assault and domestic violence have NOT changed, and the current Presidential Administration would not have the authority to change them.
What has happened is that the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) changed the descriptions of domestic violence and sexual assault on their website in April 2018. Prior to that, along with resources and hotline information, the website included some more detailed, advocacy-based descriptions of sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking for the general public. When OVW updated their website in April, those advocacy-based descriptions were removed and replaced with the current statutory definitions that are in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). These definitions have existed since the original VAWA passed in 1994, and for as long as the DOJ has been making VAWA grants, they have been constrained by these legal definitions. The entire executive branch is also bound by the language of the statute (34 U.S.C. 12991) defining domestic violence and sexual assault, which can only be amended by Congress. Anything else that was on there was not actually legally binding.
These definitions have not changed – they are the statutory definitions that have been in place since 1994.
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