Why is the Violence Against Women Act, which has been reauthorized every year since its inception in 1994, still stalled in Congress? Because some Republicans apparently aren’t familiar with the concept of tribal sovereignty. The Huffington Post reports:
VAWA, which has been reauthorized consistently for 18 years with little fanfare, was, for the first time, left to expire in Sept. 2011. The sticking point has been new protections for three particularly vulnerable groups: undocumented immigrants, members of the LGBT community and Native Americans. The additions are supported by Democrats and opposed by House Republicans, who are calling them politically driven. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in April with the additional protections, and House Republicans passed their own bill in May that omitted those three provisions. Since then, the issue has gone nowhere.
The fact that Cantor is working directly with Biden, an original sponsor of the 1994 law and a strong supporter of the Senate bill, suggests a real possibility that something could advance in the final weeks of a Congress otherwise consumed by a major tax fight. And now that the elections are over — and the GOP received the message that they need to do a better job of appealing to women and minorities — House Republicans may be more inclined to support the more inclusive bill.
The tribal provision in question protects Native women who are assaulted by non-Native men on the reservation:
[Senator Patrick] Leahy [D-Vt.] explained the provision, probably the least understood of the three additions in the Senate bill: It gives tribal courts limited jurisdiction to oversee domestic violence offenses committed against Native American women by non-Native American men on tribal lands. Currently, federal and state law enforcement have jurisdiction over domestic violence on tribal lands, but in many cases, they are hours away and lack the resources to respond to those cases. Tribal courts, meanwhile, are on site and familiar with tribal laws, but lack the jurisdiction to address domestic violence on tribal lands when it is carried out by a non-Native American individual.
That means non-Native American men who abuse Native American women on tribal lands are essentially “immune from the law, and they know it,” Leahy said.
The standoff over including VAWA protections for Native American women comes at a time of appallingly high levels of violence on tribal lands. One in three Native American women have been raped or experienced attempted rape, the New York Times reported in March, and the rate of sexual assault on Native American women is more than twice the national average. President Barack Obama has called violence on tribal lands “an affront to our shared humanity.”
Native Americans make up just 9 percent of the population of South Dakota, but more than 40 percent of (reported) domestic violence incidents take place on the Rez. And nationwide, 86 percent of Native rape victims are assaulted by non-Native men. That should give you an idea of the staggering severity of this issue, and the importance of allowing tribal courts to have jurisdiction over non-tribal members in domestic violence cases.
Moreover, the VAWA has been proven to work. A recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics tracked rates of intimate partner violence (IPV) since 1993 and came up with some pretty astounding numbers:
- From 1994 to 2010, the overall rate of intimate partner violence in the United States declined by 64%, from 9.8 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older to 3.6 per 1,000.
- Intimate partner violence declined by more than 60% for both males and females from 1994 to 2010.
- The rate of intimate partner violence for Hispanic females declined 78%, from 18.8 victimizations per 1,000 in 1994 to 4.1 per 1,000 in 2010.
Granted, women (4 out of 5 IPV cases) and especially young women (18-34), and especially single mothers, still bear the brunt of domestic abuse. And it’s estimated that as many as 75 percent of all domestic violence cases go unreported. But those numbers are hugely impressive. And it’s at least in part due to VAWA, as Kim Gandy of the National Network to End Domestic Violence writes:
The difference between today and 1993 is remarkable. Passage and implementation of VAWA created a sea change. Officers have the tools they need to help victims. Court personnel have been trained to understand the dynamics of domestic violence. VAWA-funded prosecutors can finally bring perpetrators to justice. Victim service providers have more resources and tools to support abuse victims and their children. VAWA is truly the foundation of our nation’s response to domestic and sexual violence, stalking and dating violence. It is effective and cost efficient. It is saving people’s lives and reducing violence against women.
Reauthorizing VAWA is a women’s rights issue, a peacemaking issue, and a tribal sovereignty issue all wrapped up into one. And it’s something so self-evidently beneficial to everyone concerned that it’s hard to understand why the GOP is even thinking about blocking it if they ever want anyone but straight white males to vote for them ever again.