In 1994 Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act. The more formal title of the new law is the Civil Rights Remedies for Gender Motivated Violence Act. Prior to this statute, laws against domestic violence were almost exclusively at the state level.
The Violence Against Women Act allows a person to sue for damages if another person “commits a crime of violence motivated by gender.” The new law is part of the federal government’s civil rights statute. If the crime of violence constitutes a felony against the person or the property of the victim, the victim can sue the assailant for both compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages are designed to compensate the victim for the loss. The damages could include medical expenses, lost wages, pain, and suffering. Punitive damages are an added amount of damages not for the purpose of compensation but rather for the purpose of punishing the assailant and deterring future abusive conduct. Punitive damages, however, are still paid to the victim.