WILL CONGRESS LET VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT DIE?
Hunter among those voted against extending protections to all women
By Miriam Raftery
January 26, 2013 (San Diego’s East County ) – One in four women has been a victim of domestic violence and nearly one in five has been raped during their lifetime, the Center for Disease Control reports. Yet last year, House Republicans blocked reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), allowing it to expire rather than approve a Democratic proposal to expand protections from domestic violence for Native American women, immigrant women and gay women.
Now, programs funded by VAWA for all women are in danger of disappearing, unless Congress takes action. Nationwide, VAWA supporters are organizing efforts to persuade Congress to pass a newly introduced VAWA bill before funds for all VAWA programs run out.
Advocates of last session's VAWA measure hoped to end discrimination that has prevented many women from getting help after violent assaults. Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other racial group; one in three has been raped. Undocumented immigrant women are often afraid to report domestic violence for fear of deportation. Battered women in same-sex relationships have been discriminated against when seeking shelter 45% of the time.
VAWA expired in late 2011, but funds remained short-term due to the budgeting timetable. Soon, however, VAWA programs will cease unless Congress opts to reauthorize them. A compromise measure recently introduce drops a key protection for undocumented immigration women victimized by domestic violence, however Democrats hope to include the provision in a comprehensive immigration bill later on.
VAWA, first enacted in 1994 and reauthorized twice since then, has been effective at dramatically reducing domestic violence. From 1993 to 2010, the rate of intimate partner violence dropped 67% nationwide. Homicides due to domestic violence also fell sharply. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, funded by VAWA, has answered over 3 million calls – 22,000 each month.
The National Congress of American Indians has urged Congress to support reauthorization of VAWA including a provision to allow Native American tribal courts to prosecute on on-native perpetrators, since many Native American women are assaulted by non-Native men, including assaults on tribal lands. Republicans have claimed the provision would be unconstitutional.
Deborah Parker, a Native American leader from the Tulalip Tribes in Washington state, has said that perpetrators “have raped and abused and then fallen through the cracks” because in her region, the local sheriff has said “Sorry, we don’t have jurisdiction.”
The American Bar Association has also called on Congress to strengthen tribal jurisdiction to address crimes of gender-based violence on tribal lands in the VAWA reauthorization.
Last year, the Senate passed VAWA but it was killed in the House; East County Congressman Duncan Hunter (R) was among those who voted against reauthorizing VAWA. San Diego County has more Native American tribes (19) than any other county in America, as well as a large population of immigrant women.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) this week introduced a new version of VAWA that protects Native American women, but drops an earlier proposal that would have increased “U visas” for undocumented immigrants who are domestic violence victims. U-victims are tools that help law enforcement to prosecute rapists and domestic abusers, enabling victims to come forward without fear of deportation.
“This reauthorization will allow us to make real progress in addressing the horrifying epidemic of domestic violence in tribal communities, where one recent study found that almost three in five Native women have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners,” Senator Leahy said upon introducing the measure, S. 47. Read full text here. Congresswoman Gwen Moore, who has been a victim of domestic violence, introduced a House version of the same bill , H.R. 11.
NCAI president Jefferson Keel called the provisions “vital to the safety of our Native women and to the Native and non-Native communities where violent offenders are left unchecked if they commit specific crimes of domestic or sexual violence on tribal land.”
Supporters of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act have banded together to create a website a t http://4vawa.org/. The site includes sample letters that can be sent to members of the House and Senate, as well as links to the group’s Facebook page and Twitter site.