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Violence Against Women Act Update

Congressional Reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act Remains Elusive

Incidences of violence against Native American women are of epidemic proportions.  During their lifetime, one in three will experience rape and three out of five will suffer from domestic violence.   During 2012, as a reauthorization bill was being crafted for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), there were provisions added in the Senate’s version that specifically addressed justice and equality for Native American women on reservations, but those provisions were subsequently removed from a House version of the bill.

In any case, VAWA was not reauthorized in the 2012 session.   But supporters of the act hope to revive the effort in the new Congress. American Indian organizations and many other advocates want to see the tribal protections included in the final version.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was originally authorized in 1994 when Congress recognized the severity of crimes associated with domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. VAWA is a comprehensive piece of legislation aimed at ending violence against women. It was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005 without problem. The 2000 reauthorization improved protections for battered immigrants, sexual assault survivors, and victims of dating violence, and it enabled victims of domestic violence to obtain custody orders even if they flee to another state and cannot return home due to the danger they face. The 2005 version reauthorized grant programs instituted by the original VAWA and it established new programs, including culturally specific programs. The 2005 version also increased protection for victims of domestic violence who are immigrants and for victims of trafficking. 

As proponents push for the new reauthorization, we expect that House Republicans will continue to block it, or at least block the tribal provisions. As the effort progresses, it will be critically important that you let your House representative and senators know that you not only support reauthorization of VAWA, but also support the inclusion of the tribal protections.

Those protections that were included in the 2012 Senate version authorized American Indian tribes with limited authority to prosecute sexual assault crimes on tribal lands perpetrated by non-Indians. Now, tribal jurisdiction does not extend to non-Indians, yet non-Indians commit sexual assaults, domestic violence and other similar crimes against American Indian women on tribal lands. Tribes have not had criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians in quite some time and, apparently, many in the House do not want to give tribes that jurisdiction, even if there are serious gaps in justice for American Indian women. The federal government and the state governments do not have the resources to deal with these issues occurring on tribal lands. Non-Indians who commit these crimes know that they are less likely to be charged and sentenced so there is no deterrent for them to stop committing sexual assaults, domestic violence, and/or stalking crimes against American Indian women on tribal lands. 

We’ll likely be sending out specific “Action Alerts” to you as the VAWA effort gets underway again in Congress. Meanwhile, we have created a webpage that contains some “myth busters” to consider relative to the tribal provisions. Click here to read them.