I’m not going to lie, but the House Republican leadership has just left me baffled with their handling of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). I mean seriously, preventing violence against women, who in their right mind could be against that.
I keep hearing about this Native American provision. I mean what about this one provision could be holding up the entire bill. An act that:
Since 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been an essential tool in helping to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence. Since the passage of the Act, annual incidents of domestic violence have dropped by more than 60 percent
When I look further into the provision, I ask myself the question I always ask when reading legislation: who is helped by this law, who hurt by this law and what injustice is the provision aiming to correct.
Unbeknownst to me, domestic violence on Tribal reservations are not only on the rise, but are difficult to prosecute. According to Greg Kaufmann of the Nation Magazine:
. No one needs this bill passed more desperately than Native women: one in three will be raped in their lifetimes; two in five are victims of domestic violence; six in ten will be physically assaulted; and on some reservations, the murder rate of Native women is ten times the national average.
The ability to combat the rise on domestic violence on tribal lands is severally hampered by two problems. One, the fact that law enforcement is scarce. As Sarah Childress of PBS Frontline states in her article, Will the Violence Against Women Act Close a Tribal Justice “Loophole”? :
Law enforcement officers are few and far between in Indian country. Tribal lands have fewer than half the number of officers than in other American communities, about only 1.3 officers per 1,000 people, according to the National Congress of American Indians. Scarce access to resources means a woman may not receive medical treatment after a rape or beating, and if she does, staff may not be trained to collect forensic evidence.
The second problem that this bill tries to remedy is to give tribal courts the ability to prosecute domestic violence cases when the domestic violence is committed by a non-Native. In a letter to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), the National Congress of American Indians advocates for the chance to empower their courts to address the issue:
Tribes are dealing with felony violence in domestic situations – such as beatings and rapes of young native women by non-Native boyfriends, some of whom are engaged in drug trafficking and understand that they are untouchable under the current system of law on Indian lands. The draft requires referral to the U.S. Attorney. U.S. Attorneys currently decline 67% of sexual abuse and related cases. If a case is declined at the federal level the felony crime would go back to tribal court as a misdemeanor – where the defendant can immediately remove the case back for the U.S. Attorney for a dismissal.
In order to combat this trend of non-Native abusers and the lack of US Attorneys diligently prosecuting these cases, the US Senate passed the reauthorization of the VAWA with the added provision that would extend tribal courts the ability to prosecute non-Natives in certain cases:
The new provision is narrow. It would only apply in crimes of domestic or dating violence in Indian country, where the perpetrator is an “established intimate partner” of a Native American. The offender also must live on the reservation, be employed by that tribe or in a relationship with a member of that tribe.
Not all House Republicans oppose the extension of legal protection for Native women from non-Native abuse. Rep. Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Cole (R-OK) worked out a compromise that seemed promising. As a Chickasaw Native American, Tom Cole is doing his best to overcome a party that wouldn’t even let his compromise get out of committee.
For some reason, the Republican Party would like to keep a loophole open the makes it easier for an abuser to escape prosecution due to ethnicity. Now I know how some might find that charge unfair, however, the loophole Republicans refuse to close allows someone to escape justice due to ethnic background. And that is definitely not a current American value.