As the last window of opportunity to pass a fully-inclusive Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization comes close to shutting in the final days of the 112th Congress, many are wondering why Republican House leadership, particularly Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), are so opposed to the provisions protecting Native American women on tribal reservations. Other Republican leaders — including Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), John Kline (R-MN), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Tom Cole (R-OK), and Patrick McHenry (R-NC) — have proposed a reasonable compromise that protects Native women, but it puts them at odds with the Majority Leader.
With the Issa compromise on the table and backed by several House Committee chairs, what are Republicans like Cantor still so concerned about that they’re willing to hold up the landmark law that funds services, strengthens law enforcement for domestic violence, and increases accountability for offenders?
Here’s everything you need to know about the GOP’s opposition to new protections for Native women on tribal lands:
1) Non-Native men will continue to receive a jurisdictional free pass for abusing Native women:
In response to the epidemic rates of domestic violence against Native women on reservations, the Department of Justice issued a legislative proposal that would restore Tribes’ ability to prosecute misdemeanor crimes of domestic and dating violence committed by non-Natives against Native women. This proposal also requires that the non-Native offender either live or work on the reservation and be in an existing relationship with the victim. DOJ statisticsshow that 3 out of 5 Native women had been assaulted by their intimate partners and 56 percent of American Indian women have non-Indian husbands.
Today on Indian reservations, the local governments don’t have the ability to respond to domestic violence crimes in their community if the perpetrator isn’t Native. Without this ability, non-Native offenders often go unpunished on tribal land because the only ones who can bring them to justice are federal prosecutors who are often hundreds of miles away and lack local resources to properly investigate and prosecute these crimes. The result, according to a recent National Institute of Justice (NIJ)-funded report, the offenders become emboldened, and the violence escalates to rape and in some cases homicide. On some Indian reservations, the homicide rate of Native women is 10 times the national average.
2) Republicans are more concerned with Non- Native perpetrators than Native victims:
So why do some Republicans like Cantor still have issues with a well-reasoned, narrowly-scoped DOJ proposal to reduce violence against Native women on reservations? An unbalanced concern for the rights non-Native men accused of these crimes. Even though the current Senate version of VAWA includes a full set of constitutional protections for suspects of abuse, including due-process rights and a right to counsel, Cantor and other Republicans continue to stall the VAWA Reauthorization because of baseless constitutional concerns for those accused of abusing Native women.
In the spirit of compromise within their own caucus, Issa and his colleagues proposed a powerful extra protection for defendants in their bill last week: a new right to remove the case to a federal court if the defendant’s rights are violated by a local tribal court. Although advocates for Native women would prefer to see the Senate version passed, this compromise is a reasonable way to get a deal done and improve the system of justice on reservations. It will clarify that all persons who commit a crime of domestic or dating violence on an Indian reservation will be arrested and held accountable, regardless of their race.
3) Local tribal law enforcement is more responsive to Native women:
The Senate version of VAWA would end jurisdictional black holes that give non-Native men a free pass to abuse Native women and evade justice. It would provide local tribal law enforcement with the much-needed ability to investigate and prosecute crimes against Native women in their own communities, just as other state and local authorities do for other victims in the country. Prosecuting these crimes requires sensitive and time-consuming work with family and community members. Tribal prosecutors are down the street on the reservation and work closely with the tribal police who respond to these crimes. Restoring local control will provide the victim, the family, and the community the ability to seek responsive justice locally. There’s no reason that their ability to fully prosecute these crimes should rest on the skin color of the accused abuser.