Native American women left to suffer

2013-02-13 15:08
Native American women dance in the grand entry of the Julyamsh Pow Wow in Post Falls, Idaho. (Jerome Pollos/Getty Images/ AFP)

Native American women dance in the grand entry of the Julyamsh Pow Wow in Post Falls, Idaho. (Jerome Pollos/Getty Images/ AFP)

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Chicago - Currently battling its way through the US Congress is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which authorises extra funds to police domestic violence, mandates some sentences for those convicted and permits victims to sue civilly if their case is not taken up by a prosecutor – reauthorising is usually a no brainer and is done almost every five years. It's a good piece of legislation, and usually flies through Congress (for example in 2005 it passed the Republican-led House of Representatives by 415 votes to 4, and the Senate unanimously).
 
While the act is lengthy (just the table of contents fill up the first 12 pages of the 356-page act), there is, one would imagine, a lot of common ground that can be found in trying to stave off violence against women.

No less than the Department of Justice's director of its Office on Violence Against Women, Susan Carbon, told Forbes in March 2012, "VAWA has led to significant improvements in the criminal and civil justice systems, encouraging victims to file complaints, improving evidence collection, and increasing access to protection orders. Victims now can reach out for help, call the police, find 24-hour emergency services, and take steps to leave abusive relationships… The prevalence and devastation of sexual assault is finally being recognized.  Thousands of women, men, and children have received life-saving services from rape crisis centres and domestic violence shelters."

It is a good and practical piece of legislation that really does fulfil specific needs – more rare in the world of politics than one would think. This Act expired in 2011 as it is only renewed for five years at a time, and became tied up in Congress in 2012 despite moves to reauthorise it.
 
All legislation, including such reauthorisations such as this, are required to be passed by the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans, and the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, before it can get to the president's desk to be signed into law. The Senate re-authorised VAWA on Tuesday with new provisions, namely protections for homosexual couples, Native American women, and immigrants (legal and otherwise) who marry American citizens – the vote was 78-22 for.

Native American women

This, however, is seemingly too controversial for House Republicans who claim the bill is being "politicised" by protecting gays, foreign women who are married to American men who beat them, and Native American women who are beaten by men who are not Native American.
 
While there is ample reason to believe the provision protecting gays is affecting the decision-making of a number of right-leaning congress people, the question surrounding Native American women is what most of the umming and aahing has centred around.

In a nutshell, Native Americans have their own justice system on tribal lands, but it only applies to Native Americans. This system polices Native American men who beat/assault/rape Native American women, but its jurisdiction doesn't include non-Native American men who do the same thing. Due to the commonly severe distances between tribal lands and non-Native American authorities, these men usually get off scot-free.
 
According to the Department of Justice, Native American women are 2.5-times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women of other races, and a third of them have been raped, or undergone an attempted rape. According to Amnesty International 86% of Native American rape victims are raped by non-Native American men. This is, obviously, a gaping hole in law enforcement.
 
This reauthorisation of VAWA aims to close this loophole, but has faced criticism that it is messing with the constitution by expanding tribal jurisdiction over non-Native American men. Quite literally, VAWA enables "special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction" in the same way that a state or national government would deal with domestic violence, as opposed to the way sovereignty was declared for Native Americans on certain lands in the first half of the 20th century. This version of the law cleared the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 78-22. The House of Representatives, however, is set to stall it, namely over this provision.
 
The Republican Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, however, is working with senior Representative Darrel Issa to include a clause that will allow appeals in a federal court of those who would be caught up within the Native American justice system due to this law, but are not Native American. However, these negotiations also went on when the Senate reauthorised this Act last year, but the bill still died in the House.

Limited by a technicality

What this boils down to is a loophole that prevents the specific reach of tough laws to protect those women who are at the highest risk of sexual abuse and rape in the USA. To repeat: Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women of all other races, and 86% of these crimes are undertaken by men who are not American.
 
Policing the people who perpetrate these crimes is being limited under a technicality. The most vulnerable members in the USA when it comes to sexual assault cannot see justice because of a technicality that will only affect men who beat them. Sometimes the law truly is an ass.
 
Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico summed it up when he told the New York Times, "Native women should not be abandoned to a jurisdictional loophole."

 
- News24
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