At a press conference today U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, hailed the Senate's passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (S.47). The bill, which passed the Senate this afternoon in a 78-22 vote, would renew and expand the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which had expired in September 2011.
"Today the Senate took a major step forward to protect all victims of domestic violence across America," Cantwell said today. "And because of the Senate bill nearly 500,000 women in Indian Country will receive better protection if we can get this onto the President's desk and signed."
The reauthorization bill includes critical improvements to extend domestic violence protections to individuals, including women in Tribal communities, who suffer disproportionately from domestic violence due to complex jurisdictional loopholes. An estimated 40 percent of Native women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. Eighty percent of perpetrators of these crimes are non-Indian, and under current law, are not likely to be prosecuted by Federal or Tribal governments.
The Senate's reauthorization bill also includes critical improvements to increase protections for 30 million women regardless of sexual orientation, immigration status, or residency on Tribal land. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
"The Senate sent a very clear message that no matter where you live, you deserve to be protected," Cantwell said at today's press conference. "And the message was equally clear that you cannot escape accountability for committing crimes against women. So this final bill that we now move to the House of Representatives will help us close the gap in the legal system for prosecuting domestic violence on Indian reservations."
Yesterday from the Senate floor Cantwell encouraged her colleagues to reject an amendment to the bill that would have removed the Tribal jurisdiction provisions and stripped critical protections for Tribal women.
Last week, Cantwell also called for the rejection of an amendment that would have lowered the crime of domestic violence by Non-Indians against Indian women from a felony to a misdemeanor level punishment, regardless of the circumstances or severity of the crime. The amendment was later withdrawn.
Cantwell is an original co-sponsor of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on January 22, 2013. Since the first VAWA bill passed in 1994, domestic violence has decreased by 53 percent. VAWA was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005 with overwhelming support, but for the first time in VAWA's 17 year history, the bill was allowed to expire last Congress. Full reauthorization is needed to ensure that law enforcement agencies receive the resources they need to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
Cantwell has been a consistent champion for the reauthorization of VAWA. In December, she joined six of her female Democratic Senate colleagues to call for House passage of VAWA before Congress adjourned for the year. 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.