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Law
Senate renews Violence Against Women Act


A bill that seeks to combat high rates of domestic violence against Native American women was approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

By unanimous consent, the Senate passed S.1179, the Violence Against Women Act. The bill extends the landmark law, which expired on September 30, through 2010.

"Domestic abuse touches every segment of our society, and there can be no lull in our persistence to fight it," said Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico), one of the co-sponsors of the legislation.

The National Congress of American Indians and Native women's advocates are backing the measure. They say it will help tribal governments address violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women.

"The new Senate bill will save lives," said NCAI Secretary Juana Majel at NCAI's recent midyear conference in Wisconsin.

The "Safety for Indian Women" title of the new legislation cites a number of daunting statistics about violence in Indian Country. It states that one in three Native women will be raped in their lifetimes, that Native women experience the highest rates of sexual assault and battery and that most Native women victims of homicide were killed family members or acquaintances.

To help reverse the trend, the bill increases punishments for repeat domestic violence offenders and for firearms possession. It gives greater authority to federal agents to make arrests in domestic violence incidents on reservations.

Other provisions call for annual consultation sessions between the Department of Justice and tribal governments regarding distribution of tribal funds; a "baseline" study on violence against Native women; the creation of a task force to implement recommendations of the study; authorization of tribes to access national criminal information databases; and the creation of a national tribal sex offender registry and a national registry containing civil and criminal orders of protection issued by tribes and participating jurisdictions.

The bill also creates a new tribal deputy director position within the Office on Violence Against Women. The position will be used to coordinate federal and tribal policy on domestic violence.

Although statistics show that most perpetrators of violence against Native women are non-Native, the bill doesn't include provisions that could address this situation. Tribal leaders have called for a jurisdiction fix to ensure tribes can prosecute non-Natives for domestic violence offenses.

"Tribal governments must be given the authority to protect our people from violence," said NCAI President Tex Hall back in June. "It's just common sense."

Congress has the authority to recognize tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians. But doing so would be highly controversial, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said earlier this year.

"One of the ways to address it is to make agreements with local and state law enforcement authorities to try to work in some kind of cooperative agreement," McCain said at NCAI's winter session this past March. "I don't think you're going to see national legislation on this issues. It's too controversial. It's too emotional. It's a terrible problem "

The Office on Violence Against Women is due for a funding increase in fiscal year 2006. Domenici, who serves on the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Justice and Violence Against Women Act programs, said the office would receive $395 million, an increase of $12.9 million over current levels.

The House has yet to take up the issue but is being urged to act. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Get the Bill:
S.1197: Violence Against Women Act of 2005

Relevant Links:
National Congress of American Indians - http://www.ncai.org
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence - http://www.ncadv.org