By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
“More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women, or 84.3 percent, have experienced violence in their lifetime,” reads information included in a bill currently going through Congress.
H.R. 1620 (Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Bill) was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 17 by a vote of 244-172. The Act, if passed, would add numerous protections for Native American women including expansion of scenarios where a federally recognized tribe would have jurisdiction over a non-Indian perpetrator. Past versions of the Act covered crimes of domestic violence and dating violence, and this version adds obstruction of justice, sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, and assault of a law enforcement or corrections officer.
Voting, by party, went as follows: Democrats 244 for, four absent; Republicans 29 for, 172 against.
One voting against was Rep. Madison Cawthorne (R-N.C.) who represents the 11th Congressional District that includes the tribal lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. On his official Facebook page, Rep. Cawthorne wrote, “Yesterday I voted against the partisan, VAWA Reauthorization bill. This bill promotes unproven methods of victim treatment, restricts tools used to prosecute domestic violence cases, infringes upon Second Amendment rights, and fails to provide exemptions for religious orgs.”
President Joe Biden praised the bill’s passage in the House and urges the Senate to pass. In a statement, he said, “Writing and passing VAWA is one of the legislative accomplishments of which I’m most proud. VAWA has transformed the way our country responds to violence against women. And, with each reauthorization, the Congress has expanded VAWA’s provisions on a bi-partisan basis to improve protections, including for Native American women and survivors from under-served communities, and improved efforts to prevent intimate partner violence.”
The legislation was introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security; Rep. Gerald Nadler (D-N.Y.), House Judiciary Committee chair; and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).
Rep. Lee said in a statement, “Given the rise in domestic violence and sexual assault cases during this COVID-19 crisis, where perpetrators are spending significant amounts of time at home with their victims, this landmark, transformative legislation is needed now more than ever and as chair of the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee, I am determined to work with my colleagues and others to complete the mission of shepherding H.R. 1620, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021, all the way through passage in the Senate to presentment for signature to President Biden, a strong supporter of the bill and the original creator of VAWA.”
According to information from Rep. Nadler,
“The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 improves current law in several important respects:
•Enhances and expands victim services;
•Reauthorizes grant programs to improve the criminal justice response to gender-based violence and expands allowable uses;
•Invests in prevention;
•Improves access to housing for victims and survivors;
•Helps survivors gain and maintain economic independence;
•Ends impunity for non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault, child abuse co-occurring with domestic violence, stalking, sex trafficking, and assaults on tribal law enforcement officers on tribal lands;
•Supports Communities of Color;
•Protects victims of dating violence from firearm homicide;
•Maintains existing protections for all survivors; and
•Improves the healthcare system’s response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.”
“VAWA has always been a bipartisan bill, and has always included provisions aimed at empowering tribal governments to protect our communities,” Juana Majel Dixon, Co-Chair of the NCAI (National Congress of American Indians) Task Force on Violence Against Women, said in a statement. “With passage of H.R. 1620, the House has recognized that Native victims of sexual violence, child abuse, stalking, and trafficking deserve the same protections that Congress afforded to domestic violence victims in VAWA 2013. This is about our right, as governments, to protect our citizens from violence. It is about the countless victims who have experienced life-changing trauma simply because federal law has tied our hands from protecting them. We cannot allow this to continue. We appreciate the House prioritizing passage of VAWA in the 117th Congress, and we call on the Senate to move swiftly to take up H.R. 1620.”
Title IX of H.R. 1620 paints a dire picture stating, “On some reservations, Indian women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average. According to a 2010 Government Accountability Office report, United States Attorneys declined to prosecute nearly 52 percent of violence crimes that occur in Indian Country. Investigation into cases of missing and murdered Indian women is made difficult for tribal law enforcement agencies due a lack of resources…”