Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What's the holdup? Uncertainty about VAWA in 2012

Zerlina of Feminist.com informs us that while we were out living life, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) expired. The 1994 "landmark legislation" was reauthorized without controversy in 2000, and again in 2005. So, what's the holdup? While the Senate voted 68-31 to reauthorize S. 1925, its own version of the law, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives begrudgingly reauthorized (222-205) a less inclusive bill: H.R. 4970. As such, VAWA has joined the list of controversial measures up for debate in a conference committee between the two chambers. So why did House Republicans block the Senate bill? Is it really because they don't think all rape victims deserve help? Or, because they starkly oppose the Senate's added protections and services for LGBT, Native American, and immigrant abuse victims?

Representative Sandy Adams (R- Florida), the bill's main sponsor, declared that the house would not consider "controversial issues" for the reauthorization. This statement seems counter-intuitive when addressing violence inflicted upon one person by another. Notwithstanding, Adams' refers to three specific provisions in the Senate bill: one would subject non-Indian suspects of domestic violence to prosecution before tribal courts for crimes committed on reservations; the second would expand the number of temporary visas for undocumented victims of domestic violence; and the third would expand VAWA protections to gay, bisexual and transgender victims of domestic abuse. 

Supporters of S. 1925 cringe at the potential consequences of eliminating these provisions. Where the House bill fails to specify LGBT victims for its grant programs, opponents fear that states will use this lack of specificity to preclude them from social assistance under VAWA. Furthermore, while members of the house argue that H.R. 4970 allows Native American women to apply for protective orders from local U.S. courts, opponents contend that women abused on Indian reservations are often left without legal recourse. Statistically, three out of five Native American women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. Finally, the House bill denies the possibility of citizenship for undocumented women who are abused, and cooperate with police in investigating their perpetrators.  Also, it provides for 10,000 fewer temporary visas than the Senate bill's proposed 15,000. Under the House bill, immigrant women are discouraged from reporting cases of abuse out of fear of deportation. For a number of women, this means subjecting their U.S. citizen children to abusive environments, because they have no protection against deportation. 

Many feel that women are under economic assault. Behind the rhetoric of saving taxpayer dollars, "deficit hawks" are targeting social programs created to protect women's civil rights. What about saving the taxpayers? Or do women not pay taxes? Among other cuts, H.R 4970 calls for a $10 million reduction in sexual assault services programs; a $30 million reduction in rape prevention and education grants; a $30,000 reduction in grants to combat violent crimes on campuses; and a $1 million reduction in training and services to end violence against women with disabilities. Even under the more favorable 2005 reauthorization of VAWA, victims of violence struggled to find available shelters as more and more closed their doors in the face of budget cuts. With these proposed cuts, accessibility to shelters and other services will become even more scant-- and unacceptably so. 

H.R. 4970's politically created economic barriers communicate a harsh message to the affected parties: they are not worth protecting. As its critics suggest, it is just "watered down" legislation that guts the Violence Against Women Act. Many in fact, (including Senator Patty Murray (D- Washington), Hon. Nancy Pelosi (D- California), Vice-president Joe Biden, and even President Obama) would prefer no VAWA bill to a version which excludes protections for LGBT, Native American and immigrant victims of violence. Let's hope the Senate wins this one.


CET said...

I think it is outrageous that the House would not support protections and services for abused Native American women. After taking Native American Law, I became very interested in the issues that tribes face, specifically those related to alcohol abuse and violence on reservations. It is uncontested that Native American women experience the highest rates of domestic violence in the country and are ten times more likely to be murdered than other American women.

This is problematic because when Native American men abuse Native American women, the state and federal governments typically have no jurisdiction to prosecute the abuser (subject to an exception that only applies in 16 states). The tribe has jurisdiction over domestic abuse cases, however the Tribal Courts are limited in the punishments they can impose. This is not the case when the abuser is a non-Indian. In those situations, the federal government has jurisdiction to prosecute the abuser under Indian Country Crimes Act.

To remedy this apparent gap in jurisdiction, I wholeheartedly support the Senate’s provision that would provide tribes the authority to hold these perpetrators accountable for their crimes, regardless of their race. If the final version of the bill does not include this provision, Congress should consider allowing the Tribal Courts more discretion in how they punish abusers on their reservations.

Heather said...

I think this relates the discussions in the reading today about the need to justify "protections" for women. When really it is just equality. Re-framing the question can make all the difference.

KRB said...

I agree with Courtney that it is outrageous for House Republicans not to support this bill. As Courtney points out, Native American women are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence, and the sovereignty of Native American tribes poses a great obstacle to the prosecution of the offenders. Immigrant victims are also particularly vulnerable, and less likely to report due to their concerns about deportation.

With respect to immigrant victims in particular, it would behoove the government to give women an incentive to report violent crimes by providing them with visas. Prosecuting violent offenders makes everyone safer- not just the victim.

KB said...

I think members of the House distrust Tribal Courts and that is why they do not want a version of VAWA to pass that allows Tribal Courts to have jurisdiction over a non-Indian. The distrust of Tribal Courts is something we saw numerous times in our Native American Law course. Maybe if representatives took the time to learn about Tribal Courts, they would not be as hesitant to allow them jurisdiction. While the federal government does have jurisdiction to punish non-Indian offenders as Courtney pointed out, in many circumstances they do not. Allowing tribal courts to have jurisdiction will help to punish non-Indian abusers whom the federal government does not have the resources, time, or desire to prosecute.

The House’s fears are not sufficient to preclude many vulnerable Native American, LGBT, and immigrant women from relief. I am also appalled that the main sponsor of the House bill is a woman.