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Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. MURKOWSKI. Madam President, I want to acknowledge the comments of my colleague from Washington. As the incoming chairman on the Indian Affairs Committee, she is obviously well aware of the challenges--oftentimes the horrific challenges--so many American Indians, Alaska Natives, and our indigenous people face when it comes to domestic violence and the inability to access the law.

I have been a member of the Indian Affairs Committee now since I came to the Senate some 10 years ago, and every year, without fail, we have some aspect of a hearing that focuses on domestic violence. We look to the statistics, and they are staggering. They are staggering and they are overwhelming when you put them into perspective in terms of how our Native women--particularly our Native women on reservations--deal with an epidemic when it comes to domestic violence issues that they face within their homes and so often have no place to turn. As to the law enforcement you and I would hope to be able to rely on in the event of a true tragedy, far too often women on our reservations are not able to avail themselves of those protections. It is something our committee has struggled with for far too long.

When we talk about VAWA and the importance of the Violence Against Women Act, I think we all recognize the universe we are speaking to is all women, but I think it is important to recognize that within this particular demographic, the statistics of those Native women, for whatever terrible, tragic reason, are even that much worse.

That is why I am a proud cosponsor of this bill. I think it will make real improvements in the services that are offered to victims of domestic violence. Even given the very difficult budget environment that we face, we look to those areas where we can make a difference. I think this legislation will make a difference.

As I start off my comments, I am talking about indigenous women everywhere and the violence and the statistics they face. In Alaska, unfortunately, our statistics stand out. They stand out in a way that makes none of us proud. They stand out in a way that requires us to turn inward and say, What are we doing wrong? What is happening that we are not able to make a difference in the lives of women and other victims of domestic violence?

According to the Alaska Victimization Survey, conducted back in 2010, 59 percent of Alaskan women have experienced intimate partner or sexual violence.

In the 10 years between 2001 and 2011, our Alaska State troopers responded to almost 50,000 domestic violence offenses, almost 5,500 sexual abuse of a minor offenses, and almost 4,500 sexual assault offenses. Seventy-four percent of the victims of sex crimes in Alaska were less than 18 years old. Think about what that does to you. You are a young child, a young woman, a victim at such an early age. You carry that with you throughout your life.

The average rate of reported forcible rape in Alaska was 2 1/2 times higher in Alaska than across the rest of the country. So as a woman in Alaska, you have a 2 1/2 times higher likelihood of being the victim of a forcible rape. This is a very personal issue for my State.

I have heard from people all over the State urging us here in the Senate, urging us here in the Congress: Pass this VAWA bill. You had a chance last Congress to pass it. You didn't make it happen. You have an opportunity now. Make it happen.

A mother in Anchorage wrote me:

This is of utmost importance to me. As one who has represented victims of domestic violence in Alaska under VAWA, I know how very important this legislation is to protect my daughter and all other women in Alaska and throughout our country.

A woman from Dutch Harbor wrote:

As a rural Alaskan who is also a board member of my local domestic violence shelter, I can tell you from experience that VAWA saves lives! As you know, Alaska has one of the nation's highest rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, child sexual abuse, and elder abuse. The economic downturn makes it even more crucial for us to provide immediate safe shelter to survivors in times of crisis to help them escape further violence.

Think about it. This woman is writing from Dutch Harbor, AK, out at the end of the Aleutian channel, about 1,000 miles away from Anchorage, and an $800 airplane ticket. If you need to get away from your violent situation and you don't have $1,000, where do you go? How do we provide that help?

I received another letter from a woman in Fairbanks, who said:

Tragically, there is not a single Alaska Native woman or girl in Alaska whose life has not been affected by violence against women at some level. Personally, it has affected my life and those that I love for generations. As Alaska Natives, we know that you value and advocate for the rights and welfare of the many people of Alaska. Please continue to be a voice for those who cannot be heard and work to reauthorize VAWA and SAVE Native Women.

These are the types of requests that I get from men and women all over my State.

Our Governor, Governor Parnell, has made a very personal effort in his 4 years as Governor to focus on domestic violence and child sexual assault. He has launched a campaign that he has dubbed Choose Respect; and every year across the State Alaskans gather in a very high-profile way to march. We have banners and there are young children and women and men and anybody you might imagine, all over the State.

This year, March 28, the Governor will again be encouraging us to choose respect. We want to make sure it is more than just overt demonstrations. We need to make this translate into real words that change these statistics, that change the dynamic, because Alaskans are right: Our statistics of domestic violence and sexual assault are absolutely staggering--2 1/2 times, again, more than the national average. We need to do everything we can to get a handle on these tragic statistics, because they are not statistics, they are lives, they are families, they are people and friends we know.

VAWA provides the tools to do so, including in the villages of rural Alaska, where victims of sexual assault and domestic violence face some pretty
unique challenges. Many of these villages have no full-time law enforcement presence. They may have only a single community health aide who has to tend to every medical crisis in the community. Just being able to provide rape kits is a challenge.
I mentioned being in a small remote community where everybody knows everybody, and you are the victim of domestic violence and there may be no place to turn. There may be no way to get out of your village. Eighty percent of our communities are not attached by roads. It is not as though you can just hop in your car and get away. You have to be able to fly out. If you don't have the money, you can't get out. If the weather closes in, there are no planes even if you did have the cash for an airplane ticket. So how we can be there to be that support is crucial.

VAWA is a ray of hope to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in our Alaska Native villages, whether you are in Ketchikan or whether you are in Kenai, from Anchorage to Dillingham. And this bill will help that States such as Alaska, with smaller populations and truly great need, are given the same access to grants for victims while providing services and support to all victims of domestic and sexual violence. I am pleased to be able to lend my support.


Madam President, I want to take a moment to explain an amendment that is in order this afternoon. This is my amendment No. 11.

It was mentioned earlier by the Senator from Washington State that section 904 and section 905 of the bill would expand the jurisdiction of Indian tribes to address issues of domestic violence committed by non-Indians against tribal members. So within section 905(b) and 910, they provide that, within the State of Alaska, this expanded jurisdiction applies only to one Indian reservation in our State, and that happens to be the Metlakatla Indian Reservation in the southeast.

You might say why just Metlakatla. In Alaska, there is only one reservation and that is Metlakatla. We have 229 federally recognized tribes, but other than Metlakatla, none controls Indian country in the State under existing law. The U.S. Supreme Court held in the Venetie case that none of the lands conveyed under the Alaska law is Indian country.

So what we have in the amendment before us is nothing more than a technical clarification. Both the legislation and my amendment state that the tribes, other than Metlakatla, retain all of the authority they currently have to issue domestic violence protection orders, whether or not that authority is inherent or statutorily created, and none of this authority, to the extent it exists, is diminished by the legislation or by my amendment. In addition, we go on to clarify that none of the authority the State of Alaska has is diminished.

So the natural question then would be: What is the difference between the Alaska provisions that are contained in 905(b) and 910? And why then do we even need my amendment?

The only difference is that we are attempting to spell out in plain English, consolidated in one section of the bill, to make it more clear. It truly is a technical amendment in every respect. We had some who actually questioned whether the bill's language was clear enough, so we worked with Senator Leahy's folks, we worked with some of the Indian law scholars, to allay the confusion. We very simply state the rules for Alaska's unique situation.

I certainly hope that if we move to vote on this amendment, folks would understand that what we are talking about is mere clarification, and I would ask for their support.

Madam President, I yield the floor.


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