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EVAWI > Resources > Forensic Compliance > FAQs > General
Forensic Compliance Frequently Asked Questions

Note: The information on this website is designed to: (a) communicate the requirements of the Violence Against Women Act (as reauthorized in 2005 and 2013), and (b) offer recommended practices for implementation. The goal is to highlight examples of communities striving to achieve a higher standard of the “spirit of the law,” rather than simply meeting the “letter of the law” for VAWA forensic compliance.  It is critically important that readers consult state laws and regulations, as well as local policies and protocols, because they may have additional requirements beyond those included in VAWA 2005 and VAWA 2013. For more information specific to your state or territory, contact the STOP Grant Administrator or coalition of advocacy organizations providing services for sexual assault victims.  A listing is available from the website for the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice.

Q What is “Forensic Compliance?”
Q Who must adhere to the forensic compliance provisions of VAWA?
Q What was the deadline for compliance?
Q Does VAWA require communities to offer anonymous reporting?

A What is “Forensic Compliance?”

Forensic Compliance refers to two specific provisions that first appeared in the 2005 reauthorization (and remain in place under the most recent reauthorization of VAWA 2013) regarding medical forensic exams for victims of sexual assault. These provisions read as follows:

Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit a State, Indian tribal government, or territorial government to require a victim of sexual assault to participate in the criminal justice system or cooperate with law enforcement in order to be provided with a medical forensic exam, reimbursement for charges incurred on account of such an exam or both (42 U.S.C.A § 3796gg-4(d)(1)(2005)).

There are thus two dictates associated with forensic compliance. VAWA legislation states that victims of sexual assault must be provided with access to a medical forensic examination:
  1. Free of charge, and
  2. Without requiring them to cooperate with law enforcement or participate in the criminal justice system.

VAWA 2013 retains all of the forensic compliance provisions from 2005 and it clarified that victims cannot be required to pay any out-of-pocket costs to obtain a medical forensic exam. Under VAWA 2005, jurisdictions were allowed to bill victims for the cost of the exam as long as they were fully reimbursed. However, this option was eliminated in VAWA 2013.
A Who must adhere to the forensic compliance provisions of VAWA?

All states and territories must now certify (as of January 5, 2009) that they are in compliance with these requirements in order to remain eligible for STOP Grant funds from the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). This money is an essential resource in the state and local response to violence against women.
What was the deadline for compliance?

States, territories and Indian tribal governments were originally given four years after the VAWA 2005 reauthorization – until January 5, 2009 – to certify their compliance with the forensic compliance provisions. However, compliance is not simply a one-time event; states, territories, and tribal governments must remain in compliance in order to retain their eligibility for ongoing STOP grant funding. VAWA 2013 was enacted on March 7th, 2013, and the deadline for compliance is three years from that date. Therefore, communities have until March 2016 to be in compliance with the new provisions of VAWA 2013.
A Does VAWA require communities to offer anonymous reporting?

One area of frequent confusion is the mistaken belief that VAWA requires communities to offer anonymous evidence collection and storage. This is not the case. As described in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about STOP Formula Grants published by the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), U.S. Department of Justice:
States are not required to institute anonymous reporting. Some states are instituting it voluntarily. Under VAWA 2005, states are only required to ensure that a victim receives access to a forensic examination free of charge regardless of whether the victim chooses to report a sexual assault (for any reason) to law enforcement or cooperate with the criminal justice system.
In other words, anonymity is not required in order to meet the ‘letter of the law’ for VAWA forensic compliance. However, it can be used to achieve the ‘spirit of the law.’
This project is supported by Grant No. 2013-TA-AX-K045 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.
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