VAWA: Leave No Woman Behind

Since being signed into law in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has been a landmark piece of legislation. Thousands have been helped — even saved — by programs funded by VAWA. Likewise, the cultural consciousness about the issue of domestic violence has shifted to such an extent that we don’t talk about wife-beating in hushed tones, but rather in the public square as an issue that merits not only discussion, but action.

The law was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. Indeed, it was reauthorized for 18 years straight until it was left to expire in September 2011 when VAWA hit a snag on its way through Congress, passing the Senate but stalling dead in the water in the House. Republicans seized an opportunity to hack away at protections for LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants, as well as Native Americans under the Cantor/Adams amended version.

At stake for Native American women — the group who have become the figurative lynchpin in negotiations between Rep. Eric Cantor and Vice President Joe Biden — is a provision that would allow non-Native perpetrators to be tried in tribal courts for crimes against Native women. Currently, most non-Native perpetrators escape prosecution because it has become a legal gray area in which neither tribal nor traditional courts have had clear jurisdiction. (And 85 percent of perpetrators of sexual assault against Native American women are non-Native.) In fact, violence (particularly sexual assault) against Native women has become so prevalent — at a rate 2.5 times higher than non-Native women — that some Natives say they do not know anyone who has not been raped.

It’s a silent war, and the perpetrators are winning.

The ugliest part of this is that without VAWA, critical funding to programs all over the country is drying up, leaving survivors and their children out in the cold. If Rep. Cantor gets his way, VAWA will only be saved with the blood of Native women. It is a cruel act of gamesmanship, with real people’s lives on the line.

“Who is Eric Cantor to say that it’s okay for some women to get beaten and raped?” NOW President Terry O’Neill said in a recent news story. “If they happen to be Native women who are attacked by a non-Native man, as far as Eric Cantor is concerned, those women are tossed.”

VAWA works. We have years of data that offer solid evidence of the law’s effectiveness. According to a new Bureau of Justice report, intimate partner violence has decreased by 64 percent between 1993 and 2010.

But there is no justice for all when we exclude a few. There is no reasonable explanation for holding up VAWA. It is a morally bankrupt tactic. And it won’t stand.


6 thoughts on “VAWA: Leave No Woman Behind

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