Katy Walrond, ’15
Since it was signed into law in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has been reauthorized twice with little opposition. Now, thanks to Thursday’s vote in the House, President Obama will soon reauthorize it for a third time. The Violence Against Women Act is a landmark law that has been instrumental in providing protections for victims of abuse and rape. Each time the law has been reauthorized, lawmakers have added new provisions to protect more women and strengthen the law’s effectiveness. However, many Republican men in the legislature vehemently contested some of the proposed additions to VAWA, such as protections for undocumented immigrants, transgender women, and Native American women. House Democrats refused to accept a changed version of the law that was presented by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), so Republican leadership took the Senate version of the bill to the floor without majority support. On Thursday, VAWA passed in the House with a vote of 257-166.
While the overall authorization of VAWA is extremely important to women across America, much of the media coverage on the issue has focused on why it is crucial for Native American women to be protected under the law. Domestic violence and rape are a grim reality for many women across the nation, but native women face domestic violence at almost double the rate of other American women. In addition, the Department of Justice reports that 1 in 3 Native American women will be raped in their lifetime. Women living on reservations face higher levels of violence, yet non-native men who beat, rape, or even murder these women cannot be prosecuted under local law, according to Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post. Astoundingly, non-native men are the perpetrators of at least eighty percent of the sexual violence aimed at women on reservations. So women living on reservations who are submitted to terrible acts of violence cannot even feasibly seek justice. The new additions to VAWA will make it so that non-native men who commit violent crimes against women can be prosecuted under tribal laws.
It seems like common sense that if one commits a serious crime in a jurisdiction outside of that of the United States government, that person may be tried under the laws of that jurisdiction. However, this was exactly the concept with which opposing Republicans took issue. According to some, such as Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), it would be unfair to non-native men to be tried by a jury made up of Native Americans. This is ludicrous for a number of reasons. The version of VAWA drafted by the Senate include a right to a fair and impartial trial, yet Sen. Grassley’s view assumes that a jury made up of Native American citizens would not be capable of judging a case fairly. Basically, these Republicans state that a non-native man foregoing any trial is preferable to a native woman receiving justice for violent crimes committed against her. Thankfully, a majority of the House did not agree with this viewpoint, and voted for reauthorization of VAWA.
This should never have been a political issue. Protecting all women, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, or background, should be a priority for lawmakers. There should be no exceptions to who is protected under the law, especially when it comes to crimes such as rape and domestic abuse, which often stigmatize the victim. We should all be thankful for the lawmakers who put aside political differences in order to protect the women of this nation.
For more information on the Violence Against Women Act, and why it is so important for American women, go to: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/vawa_factsheet.pdf