The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a United States federal law. It was passed as Title IV, sec. 40001-40703 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 HR 3355 and signed as Public Law 103-322 by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994. It provided $1.6 billion to enhance investigation and prosecution of the violent crime perpetrated against women, increased pre-trial detention of the accused, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted.
VAWA was drafted by then-U.S. Senator Joseph Biden's office with support from a number of advocacy organizations including Legal Momentum and The National Organization for Women, which described the bill as "the greatest breakthrough in civil rights for women in nearly two decades."
VAWA will be up for reauthorization in 2011.
There is an Office within the U.S. Justice Department that deals exclusively with violence against women. Statutorily established following the passage of the reauthorization of VAWA in 2000, the Office on Violence Against Women has the authority to administer the grants authorized under VAWA, as well as develop federal policy around issues relating to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The Office is led by a Director whose appointment has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. In June 2009, Vice President Biden announced the appointment of Lynn Rosenthal to the new position of White House Advisor On Violence Against Women.
The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993, and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the same year, concluded that civil society and governments have acknowledged that domestic violence is a public health policy and human rights concern.
The World Health Organization  conducted an extensive study on worldwide domestic violence. Released in 2005, the study analyzed data from 10 countries and sheds new light on the prevalence of violence against women. It seeks to look at domestic violence from a public health policy perspective. The survey is viewed as controversial by many because it did not assess the extent of partner violence against men, and its failure to use a validated survey instrument.
The findings from this and other studies can be used to inform a more effective response from government, including the health, legal and social service sectors, as a step towards fulfilling the state’s obligation to curtail domestic violence under international human rights laws.
The Violence Against Women Act was developed and passed as a result of extensive grassroots efforts in the early 1990s, with professionals from the victim services field, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors' offices, the courts, and the private bar urging Congress to adopt significant legislation to address domestic violence. Since its original passage in 1994, VAWA's focus has expanded to address—in addition to domestic violence—dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It funds services to protect adult, teen, and child victims of these crimes, and supports training on these issues, to ensure consistent responses across the country. One of the greatest successes of VAWA is its emphasis on a coordinated community response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; courts, law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services, and the private bar currently work together in a coordinated effort that had not heretofore existed on the state and local levels. VAWA also supports the work of community-based organizations that are engaged in work to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, particularly those groups that provide culturally and linguistically specific services. Additionally, VAWA provides specific support for work with tribes and tribal organizations to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking against Indian women.
Many grant programs authorized in VAWA have been funded by the U.S. Congress. The following grant programs, which are administered primarily through the Office on Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice have received appropriations from Congress:
STOP Grants (State Formula Grants); Transitional Housing Grants; Grants to Encourage Arrest and Enforce Protection Orders; Court Training and Improvement Grants; Research on Violence Against Indian Women; National Tribal Sex Offender Registry; Stalker Reduction Database; Federal Victim Assistants; Sexual Assault Services Program; Services for Rural Victims;Civil Legal Assistance for Victims; Elder Abuse Grant Program; Protections and Services for Disabled Victims; Combating Abuse in Public Housing; National Resource Center on Workplace Responses; Violence on College Campuses Grants; Safe Havens Project; Services for Children and Youth Exposed to Violence;Engaging Men and Youth in Prevention.
The American Civil Liberties Union had originally expressed concerns about the Act, saying that the increased penalties were rash, the increased pretrial detention was "repugnant" to the US Constitution, the mandatory HIV testing of those only charged but not convicted is an infringement of a citizen’s right to privacy and the edict for automatic payment of full restitution was non-judicious (see their paper: "Analysis of Major Civil Liberties Abuses in the Crime Bill Conference Report as Passed by the House and the Senate", dated September 29, 1994). However, the ACLU has supported reauthorization of VAWA on the condition that the "unconstitutional DNA provision" be removed.
The ACLU, in their July 27, 2005 'Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, S. 1197' stated that "VAWA is one of the most effective pieces of legislation enacted to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It has dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women and has provided critical services necessary to support women and children in their struggle to overcome abusive situations." 
In 2000, in a controversial 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court of the United States held part of VAWA unconstitutional in United States v. Morrison on federalism grounds. Only the civil rights remedy of VAWA was struck down. The provisions providing program funding were unaffected.
Various groups and persons including Rush Limbaugh, Marc H. Rudov and Glenn Sacks have voiced concerns that VAWA violates due process, equal protection and other civil rights. The United States Constitution enshrines Freedom Of Association and specifically outlaws state-sanctioned home invasion. 
A main criticism of VAWA is that it allows an individual to claim 'fear' of imminent physical harm without any supporting physical evidence to obtain a restraining order. This has resulted in an explosion of orders, principally by women against men, in order to get leverage in divorce and child custody cases. The effect on those charged under VAWA include loss of children, home, finances and stable employment. In Massachusetts some 30-50,000 ROs are issued annually.
Other defects in the law include a loss of the constitutional right to trial by jury. Fathers' rights organizations such as the The Fatherhood Coalition have called for the repeal of the law.