Today at a press conference called by Democratic Senate women, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined six of her female Democratic Senate colleagues to call for House passage of the bipartisan, Senate version of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) (S. 1925), before Congress adjourns.
"We cannot afford to continue to wait. We cannot afford to the let the violence against women -- and Native American women -- continue to escalate," Cantwell said today. "Silence and inaction are not options. It is time to act and it's time to give women better protection in this country."
All 12 Democratic Senate women signed a letter to the women of the House Republican Conference today reiterating the call for immediate House passage of the bill, which has been reauthorized in the past with full bipartisan support.
The Senate version of the VAWA reauthorization bill passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 68-31 on April 26, 2012. Click here to watch a video of a floor speech Cantwell delivered the day the bill passed the Senate. The Senate's reauthorization bill includes critical improvements to extend protection to thirty million individuals, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) victims, immigrant victims, and victims on Tribal reservations.
At today's press conference, Cantwell emphasized the need to address the epidemic of violence against Native women on Tribal reservations. An estimated 40 percent of Native women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.
"We know that federal law enforcement prosecutors have limited resources and, as a result, the offenses go unprosecuted and offenders go unpunished, and more Native American women are victimized," Cantwell added at today's press conference. "We have to act now to stop this epidemic. And that's exactly what this Senate bill does."
Cantwell has been a consistent champion for the reauthorization of VAWA. In April 2012, she joined Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) at the King County Sheriff's office to highlight the benefits of the bill to local law enforcement. The last time VAWA was up for reauthorization in 2005, Cantwell cosponsored the legislation and visited advocates across the state to hear about the bill's benefits.
The 2005 reauthorization included Cantwell's International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA), which, for the first time, provided background information to foreign fiancées about their prospective spouses. It also required international marriage brokers to provide information to foreign fiancées about their rights. The current Senate bill would strengthen those measures by requiring marriage brokers to disclose domestic violence background history to potential spouses. Cantwell introduced IMBRA following the deaths of Anastasia King and Susana Blackwell, brides who met their husbands through marriage brokers and who were both later murdered by their spouses in Washington state.
The full text of the letter sent today to the women of the House Republican Conference follows after Senator Cantwell's remarks as delivered at this morning's Washington, D.C. press conference.
CANTWELL PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
I want to thank Senator Murray for her leadership on this important issue, and thank my colleagues from the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Leahy for his hard work.
It's a pleasure to be here this morning, with two of my colleagues who bring their own prosecutorial experience to this debate -- and as you can see -- they have seen this issue upfront and close; and that is why we need to act.
I want to speak about an important provision of the bill as it relates to tribal provisions and the urgency to protecting those who live on reservations from this kind of domestic violence.
Deborah Parker, who has been here as a Washington constituent and a Vice Chair of the Tulalip Tribes. She is one of the 40 percent -- 40 percent -- of Native American women who will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. She is one of the lucky ones. She survived.
We know that over 50 percent of Native American women are married to non-Indians and there is a clear epidemic in the current law not working to protect these victims, especially when the offender can commit domestic violence crimes with impunity and without legal consequence.
As Ms. Parker said in an April press conference to urge reauthorization of VAWA, she said, "We still have no real protection for women on reservations."
We know that federal law enforcement prosecutors have limited resources and, as a result, the offenses go unprosecuted and offenders go unpunished, and more Native American women are victimized. We have to act now to stop this epidemic. And that's exactly what this Senate bill does.
The language of this bill is narrowly tailored to allow tribes to prosecute non-Indians for three categories: intimate partner crimes, domestic violence, dating violence, and violation of criminal protection orders.
So far from being unprecedented, there is a long history of Congress recognizing tribes' criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. Many of the earlier Indian treaties that the Senate ratified expressly recognized tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians when settled on Indian lands.
So I hope that we will move this important legislation. We cannot afford to continue to wait. We cannot afford to the let the violence against women -- and Native American women -- continue to escalate. Silence and inaction are not options. It is time to act and it's time to give women better protection in this country.