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Comments submitted to the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate For its hearing on VAWA Next Steps: Protecting Women from Gun Violence

Thank you Senator Whitehouse, Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, and members of the Judiciary Committee for the opportunity to provide input for this historic hearing on this important topic.

In 2000, the National Center for Victims of Crime, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, established the National Stalking Resource Center (SRC). Over the last 14 years, we have provided training and technical assistance to over 100,000 multidisciplinary professionals nationwide, including law enforcement, prosecutors, victim service providers, and other allied professionals. Our mission is to enhance the ability of professionals, organizations, and systems to effectively respond to stalking, and we are working towards a criminal justice system that improves victim safety and well-being and holds offenders accountable.

Since the first stalking law was enacted in 1990, our nation has made great strides in improving our response to stalking, including the passage of the Violence Against Women Act[1] the establishment of January as National Stalking Awareness Month in 2004,[2] and the first White House roundtable on stalking in 2012.[3] 

In addition to the Federal stalking statute, stalking is a crime in every state, U.S. territory, and the District of Columbia. While this progress is commendable, it is far from complete: in many states stalking victims do not have access to protection orders and in a majority of states criminals convicted of stalking offenses can still legally—and easily—buy and use firearms.

Federal law, too, fails to fully protect victims. It allows convicted stalkers to legally buy and possess firearms that they all too frequently use to harass, threaten, and even kill those they target. Although federal law prohibits gun ownership by some persons convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence,[4] it does not contain a parallel provision for stalking misdemeanors. In other words, someone who is convicted or pleads guilty to a stalking misdemeanor can walk out of the courthouse, go to a gun store, and pass a background check despite the conviction.

This represents a major threat to public safety because stalking of women is a predictor of further violence toward women. A study in ten major American cities found that in 85 percent of attempted murders of women, the perpetrator had stalked the intended victim in the year before the attempted murder. The same study shows that 76 percent of women killed by their intimate partners had been stalked in the prior year.[5]

Altogether, fully 1 in 4 women and 1 in 13 men have experienced stalking at some point in their lifetime in the United States.[6]

Given the major risks that stalkers pose to victims when they have easy access to deadly weapons, a federal law prohibiting convicted stalkers from using firearms is long overdue and is crucial to keeping all victims safe.

To that end, we strongly urge the passage of S.1290, The Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act, sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar. S.1290 would close loopholes in federal law that exempt certain convicted stalkers from the federal gun prohibitions. An additional provision in S.1290 would prohibit abusive dating partners from owning or possessing firearms. Nationwide, in 2012, more women were killed by their boyfriends than by their spouses, culminating a decades-long trend.[7] Despite this, federal law currently allows abusive partners convicted of misdemeanors for abusing their girlfriends or boyfriends to buy guns legally—simply because they never married or lived with their partners. The risks posed by an abusive partner do not depend on whether a couple has ever lived together or married; neither should the abusers treatment under the law.

These loopholes are not hypothetical: they are real gaps in our laws that are costing women, children, and men their lives. To protect victims of stalking and dating violence, we urge you to close the loopholes in the federal gun laws and pass S.1290.

  1. The White House, Factsheet: The Violence Against Women Act. Available at: http://1.usa.gov/1qz51vN 
  2. National Stalking Awareness Month, Welcome (2014). Available at: http://bit.ly/1kkXTo0 
  3. White House Council on Women and Girls, Raising Awareness about Stalking (Jan 30, 2012) Available at: http://1.usa.gov/1qhaKVO
  4. 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(d)(9), (g)(9).
  5. Judith MacFarlane, Jacquelyn Campbell et al., Stalking and Intimate Partner Femicide, 3Homicide Studies No. 4, 300-16 (Nov. 1999). 
  6. National Stalking Resource Center, Stalking Fact Sheet (2012). Available at: http://bit.ly/1ff9Be8 
  7. Everytown for Gun Safety analysis of FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports, 2008-2012.