The Violence Against Women Act Must Protect Native American Women

By Francesca Witcher

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Senate reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The version of VAWA that the Senate passed included new provisions to protect Native American women.  While the reauthorization of VAWA itself is significant, equally important are these new provisions because they extend VAWA’s protections to the Native American women living on reservations who are victims of offenders who are non-Native.

Among those who commit crime of rape and domestic violence on reservations, 88 percent are non-Native offenders and under current law these abusers cannot be arrested or prosecuted on tribal lands.

Whether to include provisions addressing Native American women victims living on reservations was under intense debate in the U.S Senate. Although the bill passed in the Senate included these new provisions, a version of VAWA could pass without these provisions in the U.S House of Representatives.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Cantor/Adams alternative version of the bill that would not give major tribal courts jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native American abusers and offenders, taking away legal protections for many abused Native American women.

Unfortunately, there is a stringent partisan divide over the provisions that should be included in the bill, but stopping violence against women deserves bipartisan support. The reauthorization of VAWA should not discriminate against women who are victims of violence. Violence is violence and all Native American women who are victims of violence on reservations should have the right to receive justice in tribal courts.

Call to Action: Find out where your U.S. Representative stands on this issue. If they support including the provisions to protect Native American women, encourage them to continue to fight to keep those provisions in the bill. If your representative is against including those provisions to protect Native American women, get students on your campus or in your community involved in writing letters and making phone calls to your representative and urge him/her to stand up and protect ALL women who are victims of violence.

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