Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded the House of Representatives' passage of the Senate's Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (S.47). The House approved the bill by a vote of 286-138, after rejecting an alternate version that would have stripped critical provisions to protect millions from abuse. The bipartisan legislation -- which now goes to President Obama's desk for his signature -- would renew and expand the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which had expired in September 2011. The reauthorization passed the Senate on February 12 by a vote of 78-22.
"Today Congress is sending the President a bill to better protect all victims of domestic violence in America," said Cantwell. "We are sending a clear message to domestic violence victims that you are not alone -- no matter who you are, where you're from or where you live. I'm also pleased that this bill takes substantial steps forward to assist victims of human trafficking, with the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
"This bill will help us confront the epidemic of abuse that occurs on Tribal reservations, with Native women facing assault at 2.5 times the national average," Cantwell continued. "By closing gaps in the legal system for prosecuting domestic violence on Tribal reservations, we are making it clear that no matter where crimes against women take place, perpetrators will not escape accountability. Because of our bipartisan effort, nearly 500,000 women in Indian Country will get the better protection they deserve."
The reauthorization bill includes critical improvements to extend protection to 30 million individuals regardless of sexual orientation or immigration status. The bill extends enhanced domestic violence protections to women in Tribal communities, who suffer disproportionately from domestic violence and face complex jurisdictional loopholes to prosecute offenders.
Cantwell championed the key provisions of the reauthorization that strengthen protections for victims in Tribal communities. An estimated 40 percent of Native women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. Some 80 percent of perpetrators of these crimes are non-Indian, and under current law, are not likely to be prosecuted by federal or Tribal governments.
At a press conference earlier this month Cantwell praised the Senate's passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill and urged the House to take up the legislation with Tribal and other key provisions intact. Cantwell also spoke from the Senate floor during the fight to reauthorize VAWA on February 11 and encouraged her colleagues to reject an amendment that would have removed the Tribal jurisdiction provisions and stripped critical protections for Tribal women. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 31-59.
Prior to that speech, Cantwell also called for the rejection of an amendment that would have reduced 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 bipartisan 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.
The VAWA bill passed today also reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which enables law enforcement to better investigate human trafficking crimes. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act had expired in 2011.
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.