Twenty years ago Saturday, President Bill Clinton signed a massive crime-control bill that funded shelters for battered women and helped train police to investigate attacks. NPR says the law’s anniversary falls on a week when violence against women is front and center: the Baltimore Ravens fired Ray Rice after TMZ released a video where he knocked his then-fiancee unconscious. A South African judge convicted sprinter Oscar Pistorius of negligently killing his girlfriend.
A key part of the law, the Violence Against Women Act, redefined wife beating as a crime rather than a joke. It’s hard to believe, but for years, it was a source of humor in TV sitcoms. Melanie Sloan, who worked on the legislation as a House aide, said, “The Violence Against Women Act made it clear that violence against women was a major problem and it hadn’t really been recognized as such previous to that bill.” Vice President Joe Biden, lead Senate sponsor, says domestic violence hid in the shadows in the 1990s: “Virtually no one, called it a crime. It was a family affair.” Before the 1994 law, there were no national domestic violence hotlines and few housing options.