Senate reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act of 2013

WTF Senate reauthorizes VAWA 2013

The Senate on Tuesday voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which funds programs to prevent and prosecute domestic violence and sexual assault crimes as well as support services for victims of those crimes.

S. 47 passed the Senate by a 78 to 22 vote.

Read more: List of 22 Republican Senators who voted against S. 47 Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

A recent survey by the Center for Disease Control found that 1 in 4 women has been a victim of physical domestic violence and in 1 in 5 women has been raped in her lifetime.

The domestic violence rates for Native American women are exceptionally high: 3 out of 5 Native American women have been physically abused by their husband or domestic partner and 1 out of 3 Native American women will be raped in their lifetime, and nearly half of those assaults are committed by non-Native American men.

The Violence Against Women Act has been widely credited for cutting down the rates of domestic violence-related deaths, and the American Bar Association has praised VAWA as an “integral part of our public safety strategy that has empirical support for its effectiveness.”

Among other things, the 2013 reauthorization bill would:

  • coordinate law enforcement and community responses to sexual assaults;
  • train prosecutors and law enforcement agents to improve the handling, investigation, and prosecution of sexual assault cases;
  • reduce the backlog of sexual assault cases;
  • encourage colleges to do more to protect students from sexual and domestic violence;
  • expand programs and services to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) victims of domestic and sexual violence;
  • fund safe homes and transitional housing for victims;
  • improve health care services for victims;
  • expand protections and visa waivers for (undocumented) immigrants (and their children) who are victims of domestic or sexual violence but who are afraid to report the crimes to law enforcement because of their immigration status;
  • grant tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence crimes committed on Indian territory or against an Indian-American in a participating tribe. The bill does provide an exception for cases where both the victim and defendant are both non-Indians.

“I am proud that our bill seeks to support all victims, regardless of their immigration status, their sexual orientation or their membership in an Indian tribe. As I have said countless times on the floor of this chamber, ‘a victim is a victim is a victim,'” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the bill’s lead sponsor. “This reauthorization will allow us to make real progress in addressing the horrifying epidemic of domestic violence in tribal communities. The bipartisan bill will allow services to get to those in the LGBT community who have had trouble accessing services in the past. The bill also includes key improvements for immigrant victims of domestic and sexual violence.”

Republican lawmakers have objected to the bill’s provision granting Indian tribal communities jurisdiction over domestic violence and sexual assault crimes committed against Native American women or on tribal territory.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) expressed concern that a jury selected from a population living within tribal territory may be “biased against a defendant who may not be part of the same race, culture, or religions as the jurors.”

“I am concerned that such proceedings have the potential to deprive U.S. citizens of crucial due process rights,” Lee said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the bill’s provision “makes political statements and expounds on Native American sovereignty” and “raises serious constitutional questions concerning both the sovereignty of tribal courts and the constitutional rights of defendants who would be tried in those courts.” Grassley argued that the Senate should, instead, “focus on providing needed services to Native American women.”

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