Opinion: Violence Against Women Act helps Indian women

"Until this year, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was the poster child for bipartisanship. First passed in 1994 under the leadership of then-Senator Joe Biden, it garnered overwhelming support when it was reauthorized in 2000 and again in 2005. Now, however, it too has become politicized, a casualty of the culture wars. Although the legislation to reauthorize VAWA (S 1925) still has bipartisan sponsors, it was recently voted out of committee in the Senate 10-8 on a strict party-line vote and final passage is by no means certain.

Why? Because it explicitly strengthens protections for those experiencing violence at the hands of a same-sex partner, as well as for immigrants and Native American women. In the highly charged atmosphere of today's Congress, it seems that nothing -- not even support for victims of crime -- is safe from controversy, and if the controversy involves women's rights, the rhetoric of opponents escalates.

Finally, the bill would increase access to justice for Native women living on tribal lands. The numbers are stunning. Native women are 2.5 times more likely than other U.S. women to be battered or raped. One-third of Native women will be raped in their lifetimes. Two-fifths will experience the tragedy of domestic violence. And, their legal situation greatly complicates their access to justice. Currently, criminal authority is limited to federal law enforcement agencies that can only prosecute misdemeanor crimes by non-Indians against Indians on tribal land. Sadly, U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse and related matters that occurred in Indian country from 2005-2009. VAWA reauthorization would give tribes the authority to prosecute misdemeanor domestic violence-related crimes when the abuser lives or works in the jurisdiction of the tribe, or is the spouse or intimate partner of a tribe member. It is time to close the gaps in the law to ensure that rapists and abusers cannot commit crimes against Native women with impunity."

Get the Story:
Nancy K. Kaufman: The Struggle to End Violence Against Women Encounters a Road Block (The Huffington Post 3/15)

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