Our senators in Washington are fighting again over whether to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The VAWA has garnered bipartisan support for 18 years, until September 2011. It was left to expire at that point, because Republicans refused to renew the bill with added protections for three particularly vulnerable groups of women: illegal aliens (think Russian brides shipped in by sex traffickers, for example), LGBT women, and Native American women.
How can anyone support a group—Republicans–who want to limit protections for different groups of women they deem less worth protecting? Do these women not bleed the same as other women? EVERY woman deserves protection from abuse and harm. Just because they are Native American, or gay, or an illegal alien, doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve to be protected from abuse in America.
As it stands, Native American women have no recourse against their attackers, because of a problem of jurisdiction.
A staggering one in three Native American women have been raped or experienced attempted rape, The New York Times reported in March. The rate of sexual assault on Native American women is more than twice the national average. Of the Native American women who are raped, 86 percent are raped by non-Native men.
These are by-in-large white men who come onto the tribal lands and harm Native women; however, because tribal law only applies to Natives, these men are essentially “immune from the law, and they know it,” Patrick Leahy (D-VT), author of the Senate VAWA bill, says.
As this article clearly lays it out:
‘Leahy explained the provision, probably the least understood of the three additions in the Senate bill: It gives tribal courts limited jurisdiction to oversee domestic violence offenses committed against Native American women by non-Native American men on tribal lands. Currently, federal and state law enforcement have jurisdiction over domestic violence on tribal lands, but in many cases, they are hours away and lack the resources to respond to those cases. Tribal courts, meanwhile, are on site and familiar with tribal laws, but lack the jurisdiction to address domestic violence on tribal lands when it is carried out by a non-Native American individual.’
So essentially, Senate Republicans do not want white men to be held accountable for their wrong-doing in a Native American court, even though it’s been proven ineffective to hold those men accountable in a court that is hours away. The tribal provision has the backing of the Justice Department, and any concerns about constitutional laws not being honored in tribal court have already been considered and covered.
I cannot understand this. Senate Republicans are protecting non-Native men who rape Native American women from prosecution. Perhaps I am more sensitive to this issue because I myself am a rape victim, but I simply cannot fathom the lack of heart in people who would not support the tribal provision, closing the gap in prosecution for non-Native rapists who harm Native women.
I do understand that this is a complicated issue, between tribal law, federal law and state law. But there simply must be a way to make sure men who rape women can be prosecuted. The loophole must be closed, and this is one way to close it.
I agree with President Obama, when he called violence on tribal lands “an affront to our shared humanity.” To be honest, the Republicans’ blockage of the renewal of VAWA with added protections for women most in need makes me doubt they have shared humanity.
Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, said it so well:
“Who is Eric Cantor to say that it’s okay for some women to get beaten and raped? 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.”
Every woman deserves protection. Senate Republicans who do not support VAWA should be ashamed.