The White House is pushing for a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), urging the U.S. Congress to not only pass the updated version but approve additions. The reauthorized version was introduced by Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in November 2011.
"The Violence Against Women Act has been authorized twice and each time it has been strengthened and improved. This time should be no different," Senior Advisor to President Obama Valerie Jarrett told reporters in a conference call Thursday morning.
The Obama administration has pushed this issue from the first months of its tenure, becoming the first to name a White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, currently Lynn Rosenthal.
"Congress needs to not only reauthorize but strengthen the Violence Against Women Act," she added, stating that although annual incidents of domestic violence have dropped by more than 50% since the 1994 enactment of VAWA, more needs to be done.
One in three women and one in seven men will experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lives. There are three domestic violence homicides a day in the U.S., Jarrett added, proving the need for continued efforts to reduce these numbers.
The reauthorized VAWA would aim to "expand the law's focus on sexual assault and to ensure access to services for all victims of domestic and sexual violence," Senator Crapo said in a November 2011 press release.
Specifically, the strengthened VAWA provisions will seek to eliminate gender bias in the current legislation and to allow prosecutions of non-Native Americans on tribal lands.
Without an act of Congress, tribes cannot prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence even if the person lives on tribal land, Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West said in the conference call. This provision is necessary because 76 percent of those living on tribal land are non-Indian and interracial marriage and dating is common, he said.
The updated VAWA would address this issue by allowing tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence against Native Americans living on tribal lands while also ensuring defendants have all the rights in tribal courts as they would in state courts.
"We do think the Leahy-Crapo bill is consistent with our overall federal law enforcement scheme," West said, when asked to comment on whether the tribal provision is legal.
The updated VAWA would also seek to block language in an amendment offered by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) seeking to block LGBT inclusion in domestic violence shelters. The original VAWA denies discrimination for members of the LGBT community to be housed in domestic violence shelters. The Grassley-Hutchison amendment seeks to undo this.
When asked about the gender neutral language in the amendment, Jarret said "We believe it takes us backwards." But, as in the past, the bill has garnered bipartisan support regardless of some disagreement.
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) both made Senate speeches today in favor of the bill.
"There are debates and philosophical differences about elements of various provisions in the bill," McCain said. "And while the Senate should be allowed to debate and, ideally, resolve those differences, I don't think any of the points of controversy we will discuss today are important enough to prevent passage of this legislation."
"As my friend the Majority Leader noted just yesterday, a good way to lower the incidence of violent crime is to incarcerate those who commit it. We couldn't agree more. And we'd like the chance to improve the law in that respect," McConnell stated.
The specific improvements made to VAWA include:
- An emphasis on the need to effectively respond to sexual assault crime by adding new purpose areas and a 25 percent set-aside in the STOP state formula grant program and the Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders Program;
- Improvements in tools to prevent domestic violence homicides by training law enforcement, victim service providers, and court personnel on identifying and managing high risk offenders and connecting high risk victims to crisis intervention services;
- Improvements in responses to the high rate of violence against women in tribal communities by strengthening concurrent tribal criminal jurisdiction over perpetrators who assault Indian spouses and dating partners in Indian country;
- Measures to strengthen housing protections for victims by applying existing housing protections to nine additional federal housing programs;
- Measures to promote accountability to ensure that federal funds are used for their intended purposes;
- Consolidation of programs and reductions in authorizations levels to address fiscal concerns, and renewed focus on programs that have been most successful;
- Technical corrections to updates definitions throughout the law to provide uniformity and continuity throughout the law.
by RTT Staff Writer
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