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Building on a Good Foundation: Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act

Seventeen years after its original passage, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was introduced for reauthorization last month with the bipartisan leadership and support of Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Mike Crapo. The act, the current authorization of which expired in September, was first championed by then Senator Joe Biden, passed by Congress in 1994, and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.  Each time it was considered by Congress, the legislation has enjoyed broad bipartisan support. This support reflects the very real concern that abuse knows no bounds – victims can be young and old, of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, all genders, from every corner of the country, urban and rural, tribal and territorial. This week, the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services are holding our 6th annual Tribal Consultation in New Mexico.  We are participating in discussions with tribal leaders from all over the country that will help us better serve women who are abused, raped and murdered, at rates which are nothing short of abominable. VAWA Reauthorization will be a major focal point of this dialogue. VAWA has been the cornerstone of the federal government’s efforts to end sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.  The Act supports programs serving all segments of society, and encourages close collaboration among community service providers and professionals to coordinate efforts to end violence.  Since its passage, well over $4 billion has been awarded for victim services and hundreds of programs around the country such as transitional housing, supervised visitation and legal assistance. The impact of VAWA cannot be overstated:  it has profoundly improved lives, has saved lives, and has led to a paradigm shift whereby domestic and sexual violence are no longer private matters, but recognized for the public health, legal and social issues that they are. While violence has been reduced substantially as a result of VAWA, much remains to be done.  The proposed legislation includes a number of important updates and improvements to the law, including a greater emphasis on meeting the needs of survivors of sexual violence addressing, domestic homicides and on reaching traditionally underserved communities. Major improvements are also proposed to address the incredibly high rates of violence committed against women in tribal communities.  Among other things, the legislation proposes to strengthen tribal responses by recognizing certain tribes’ concurrent jurisdiction to investigate, prosecute, convict and sentence both Indians and non-Indians, and clarifies that tribal courts have full civil jurisdiction to issue and enforce certain protection orders. In conjunction with the Tribal Consultation this week, the Task Force created under Title IX of VAWA is meeting to hear updates from the National Institute of Justice about their program of research regarding violence against the American Indian and Alaska Native community. Reports from this meeting, along with additional information about the Task Force and the Office on Violence Against Women, can be found at www.ovw.usdoj.gov. We remind all those in need of assistance, or other concerned friends and individuals, to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE
Updated April 27, 2017