In spite of being passed by a super majority of the Senate, the Republican dominated House of Representatives allowed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to expire for the first time since 1994. The Act supports investigating and prosecuting violence against women. It also imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allows survivors to seek civil redress in cases where prosecutors won’t take action. The expiration of the Act threatens all of this, making women more vulnerable to domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault.
This is probably not news to you.
It’s probably also not news to you that the reason the Act has been allowed to expire is that conservative House members object to extending protections to LGBT women, undocumented immigrants, and Native American women.
But, the case against House opposition to VAWA can’t be overstated. Refusing to reauthorize VAWA because of the inclusion of LGBT survivors is ridiculous. It’s simple bigotry and nothing more to arbitrarily draw the line on cost so as to include only women perceived to be heterosexual.
Conservative attempts to exclude undocumented immigrants is similarly about bigotry. I recognize that the u-visa issue is a complicating factor, but there should be no question that detaining and deporting someone who exposed themselves to immigration authorities while reporting an incident of sexual assault is just plain cruel, not to mention terrible criminal justice policy. After all, the assailants in these cases broke the law. We are releasing them from accountability simply because of the immigration status of their victims. In other words, we are rewarding them for attacking women who are especially vulnerable.
I’m guessing most conservatives don’t want these guys who prey on the most vulnerable in the company of their minor daughters. It seems that some combination of racism and sexism (as in that they don’t believe that the women in their own lives could be victimized because they’re not like those women) is the clouding their reasoning. But maybe I’m being too generous. It’s possible they just don’t care.
On the issue of extending protections to Native American women, however, the bigotry seems most clear.
This provision provides tribal governments the authority to investigate and prosecute cases of violence against women on American Indian reservations when the assailant isn’t a tribal member. Because neither tribal nor non-tribal local law enforcement agencies have the authority to pursue cases involving non-Indians on tribal land, this means that non-Indians can commit acts of violence against women on reservations with virtual impunity.
Opponents, and Representative Eric Cantor in particular, have claimed that extending this authority to tribes is unconstitutional. However, many lawyers in the field disagree. Preemptively determining this provision unconstitutional before it can be adjudicated in court, especially when the belief that it is unconstitutional is outside of the mainstream, seems pretty obviously political.
And the politics of this seems to me to have to do with tribal sovereignty. It’s about whether tribes can exercise legal authority over non-Indians on tribal lands, which should be no different a question than whether the U.S. government has the ability to exercise legal authority over Canadian citizens in the U.S. That is, except for the fact that tribal authority is based on treaties with an anti-Indian government.
Need more convincing? We don’t allow the government of Mexico to intervene against prosecution when Mexican citizens break U.S. laws, except in pretty extraordinary circumstances. Yet that’s basically what we’re doing against tribes when we passively intervene by prohibiting tribal authorities from investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by non-Indians within tribal jurisdictions.
And for this reason, Native women are far more likely to be victimized – 2.5 times more likely in fact. The murder rate of Native American women is also 10 times the national average. Leaving out those who are the most likely to be victimized doesn’t make good criminal justice sense and is against the intent of VAWA, which is not just to prosecute those who commit violence against women, but to deter people from doing it in the first place. Yet we allow this to go on.
If you’ve been reticent to get on the horn with your Representative to get them to hang tough on the Native American provision in VAWA, you should check out this video presented by The Nation’s Greg Kaufman.