Category Archives: VAWA

Sen. Leahy on VAWA Reauthorization

In the Congressional Record for December 20, 2012, Senator Leahy made the following statement on VAWA Reauthorization.

   Mr. President, I have been saying for weeks and months that we are overdue to pass into law the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which the Senate approved in April with 68 bipartisan votes. I am disappointed that the House still has not picked up this bipartisan effort and that we are not getting the job done this year. I want everyone to know that I will be back next year, and we will get it done.

   Just yesterday we were reminded again why this legislation is so important. In Colorado, a man just released from jail on domestic violence charges shot his way into a house, murdering his ex-girlfriend, and her sister, and her sister’s husband, before killing himself. We have seen enough horrific violence. It is past time to act.

   The Leahy-Crapo bill would support the use of techniques proven to help identify high-risk cases and prevent domestic violence homicides. It will help us go further to prevent domestic and sexual violence and to provide services and support to all victims.

   For several weeks, I have been advocating a compromise on a key provision aimed at addressing the epidemic of domestic violence against native women. I want to compliment my partner on this bill, Senator Crapo, who has been working hard to try to bridge the divide and address concerns with the provision in our bill that gives limited jurisdiction to tribal courts to make sure that no perpetrators of domestic violence are immune from prosecution. Senator Crapo has pushed hard and has indicated a willingness to compromise significantly, as have I. Sadly, others have continued to draw lines which would ultimately deny assistance to some of the most vulnerable victims. That is unacceptable.

   I appreciate that there have at last been some renewed discussions about this bill in the House of Representatives but that is not enough. The only way to reauthorize VAWA this year is for the House to take up and pass the Senate-passed bill. If the House Republican leadership refuses to do that in the final days of this Congress, it is a shame.

   I remain steadfast in my resolve to get this done and pass a good VAWA bill that protects all victims. I know Senator Crapo shares my resolve. I know every woman in the Senate and many other Senators and House members share our resolve. I know President Obama and Vice President Biden share our resolve.

   We will be back next year. We will introduce a good bill, and we will pass it through the Senate. We will continue our discussions, and we will work tirelessly to have a good bill enacted into law. This is not the end of our efforts to renew and improve VAWA to more effectively help all victims of domestic and sexual violence.

   We know that the epidemic of violence against native women is appalling, with a recent study finding that almost three in five native women have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners. We know that immigrant women are particularly vulnerable, with their immigration status another weapon that abusers can use to keep power and prevent reporting. We know that some victims cannot access needed services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We know that women and girls on college campuses are too much at risk, and more must be done to protect them. The list goes on.

   We have shown a willingness to compromise but we must make progress on all of these issues. We must make things better, and never make things worse, for the most vulnerable of victims.

   The community of advocates and service providers who work every day with victims of these terrible crimes is inspiring. It was their advice on the real needs of real victims that shaped this legislation, and they have fought with us every day to get this bill enacted. I want them to know how much I value the work they do and that I will not abandon their cause. We will continue working together, and we will reauthorize VAWA.

   We have seen enough violence. If we cannot get the Leahy-Crapo bill over the finish line this year, we will come back next year, and we will get it done. I look forward to other Senators joining us as we continue this vital effort.


Demonstration Grants for Indian Children

Published in the Federal Register for December 20, 2012 is a Notice inviting applications for Fiscal Year 2013 Applications for New Awards; Indian Education– Demonstration Grants for Indian Children. The purpose of the Demonstration Grants for Indian Children program is to provide financial assistance to projects that develop, test, and demonstrate the effectiveness of services and programs to improve the educational opportunities and achievement of preschool, elementary, and secondary Indian students.

The Notice is here.

Cantor and Leahy on VAWA

Below are floor statements from Rep. Crapo and Sen. Leahy on VAWA Reauthorization in the Congressional Record for December 13, 2012.

Rep. Cantor:

   As far as the Violence Against Women Act, as the gentleman knows, (Rep. Hoyer) I’m in discussions with the Vice President. I know it is of particular interest to him. There are many Members on our side whom I’ve met with today, as well as Members of the other body, who are interested too. We have met, and we are trying to work out the differences. I’m committed to do all I can, as the gentleman knows, to bring this to a conclusion so we can see its passage.


Sen. Leahy

   Mr. President, a week ago, I came to the Senate floor and said it was time for the Senate and the House to come together to pass the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. I expressed hope because I thought there was a basis for compromise on a provision that had been a sticking point for House Republicans. I am dismayed that we have not seen progress toward that compromise despite my outreach and the urgency of the situations for thousands of victims of domestic and sexual violence.

   Senator Crapo and I included in our bill a key provision to allow tribal courts limited jurisdiction to consider domestic violence offenses committed against Indian women on tribal lands by non-Indians. The epidemic of violence against Native women is appalling, with a recent study finding that almost three in five Native women have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners. This provision would help end an untenable situation where non-Indians assaulting their spouses or intimate partners on tribal land are essentially immune from prosecution.

   This is a commonsense proposal with important limitations and guarantees of rights, but I know that House Republicans have continued to object to it. That is why I was heartened when two conservative House Republicans with leadership positions introduced a bill providing a compromise on the tribal jurisdiction provision.

   Representative Issa of California and Representative Cole of Oklahoma introduced the Violence Against Indian Women Act, H.R. 6625. Their cosponsors include Republicans from North Carolina, Minnesota, and Idaho. They all have tribes within their States and are concerned about the violence our Senate bill is trying to combat. Their bill includes a provision that allows defendants to remove a case to Federal court if any defendant’s rights are violated. This modification should ensure that only those tribes that are following the requirements of the law and providing full rights can exercise jurisdiction and that defendants can raise challenges at the beginning of a case.

   Last week, I called on House Republican leadership to abandon their “just say no” approach to any grant of tribal jurisdiction and give serious consideration to the Republican compromise proposal introduced last week. I have heard that Republican leaders are meeting today to finally discuss the issue. It is my hope that they will show real leadership by supporting crucial protections for tribal women, rather than offering empty proposals that do not change existing law and will not move us forward or help us to address this crisis.

   I have reached out to House leaders throughout the year and very recently to find a path forward on VAWA, and I know others have conducted similar outreach. While I am very disappointed that I have yet to see meaningful movement despite the opportunity for reasonable, bipartisan compromise to enact this needed legislation, I do believe House leaders still have an opportunity to do the right thing and pass VAWA, but that window is closing.

   Passing the Leahy-Crapo VAWA bill will make a difference. It will lead to a greater focus on the too often neglected problem of sexual assault and rape. It will lead to important new programs to identify high risk cases and prevent domestic violence homicides. It will lead to better protections for students on campuses across the country and better housing protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence. These improvements are most meaningful if they apply to all victims. I am willing to explore compromise language to make progress, but we should not leave out the most vulnerable victims.

   As partisan objections continue to hold up this bill, we continue to read each week about new and horrific cases of domestic violence and rape. It is heartbreaking that women continue to suffer as our efforts to compromise and pass this crucial legislation hit roadblock after roadblock. I hope that our last ditch effort will finally break this frustrating impasse.


VAWA Tribal Jurisdiction Provision

On April 26, 2012, the United States Senate passed S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA). In S. 1925 is Section 904 of the bill, which restores tribal governments’ concurrent jurisdiction with Federal and State governments over non-Indians in domestic violence cases. This provision has been of great concern to Republican Leadership, including Senator Kyl (R-AZ). Senator Kyl argues that the bill is unconstitutional because of the tribal jurisdiction provision. In response, on April 21, 2012, 50 law professors wrote to leadership on the Senate Judiciary Committee arguing that the tribal provision is constitutional. S. 1925 passed the Senate by a vote of 68-31. A rare feat in a divisive Senate. Nonetheless, Senators voting against the bill included those with Indian reservations or large populations of Indian peoplein their state, including Barrasso (R-WY), Coburn (R-OK), Cochran (R-MS), Cornyn (R-TX), Hatch (R-UT), Inhofe (R-OK), Johanns (R-NE), Johnson (R-WI), Kyl (R-AZ), Lee (R-UT), Moran (R-KS), Risch (R-ID), Roberts (R-KS), Rubio (R-FL), Sessions (R-AL), Shelby (R-AL), Thune (R-SD). Senator Barrasso, Vice-Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, voted against S. 1925 despite the February 2012 New York Times story about the high rate of crime on the Wind River Reservation in his state.

Instead of considering S. 1925 as passed by the Senate, House Republican leadership considered H.R. 4970, their own VAWA Reauthorization bill. H.R. 4970 did not include the provision restoring tribal concurrent jurisdiction over non-Indians in domestic violence cases. According to a House Rules Report, during consideration of H.R. 4970 Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) tried to introduce a tribal jurisdiction amendment but was thwarted by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith.  The Report states:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) also attempted to offer an amendment that would have granted limited tribal criminal domestic violence jurisdiction over non-Indians, noting that ‘‘there is an important issue here about tribal sovereignty and perhaps what one might call race discrimination.’’ Again, the Chairman refused to exercise his discretion to allow consideration of the provisions. Before withdrawing his amendment, Rep. Issa took issue with the Chair’s decision and asked:

So when we are trying to create better opportunity to deal with domestic violence, greater sovereignty by Native Americans, we are also dealing with the most fundamental point, which I believe is well within this committee’s jurisdiction, if we have protection against discrimination based on race, isn’t the current law a clear discrimination be- tween two residents of a reservation simply based on their race? 

The Chairman did not answer Rep. Issa’s question, but instead acknowledged the ‘‘legitimate concern’’ and offered that the issues would be considered at ‘‘the appropriate time.’’

House Republican Leaderships’ argument is two-fold. First, the Republicans discredit a federal study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and a study by Amnesty International regarding the exceptionally high rates of violence experienced by Indian women and argue that violence against Native American women by non-Indian men is not really a problem in Indian Country, stating in House Report 112-480 that “It is the [Bureau of Indian Affairs’] opinion that non-native domestic violence offenders represent a very small percentage of domestic violence reported crimes in Indian Country.”  The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) quickly discredited this assertion via a letter to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee stating that the assertion is not true and that to the contrary the BIA recognizes that over half all Indian married women have non-Indian husbands and that Indian women experience some of the highest domestic-violence victimization rates in the country. The BIA also stated that instead of quibbling over the verifiability of any studies or statistics we must not lose sight of fact that there is no acceptable level of violence by non-Native men on Native American women.  House Republican Leadership, like Senator Kyl, also argue that the tribal jurisdiction provision is unconstitutional, despite the April 2012 letter from 50 law professors nationwide who assert that the tribal jurisdiction provision is constitutional. 

On May 15, 2012, President Obama issued a Statement of Administration Policy stating that H.R. 4970 did not include key provisions, including the tribal jurisdiction provision, and that “If the President is presented with H.R. 4970, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

On May 16, 2012, the House passed H.R. 4970, largely along party lines, by a vote of 222-205. As passed by the House, H.R. 4970 excluded the tribal jurisdiction provision.  The most surprising vote for H.R. 4970, which excluded the tribal jurisdiction provision, was Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK) for two reasons. First, Rep. Boren was then Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. Secondly, Rep. Boren was chief sponsor of H.R. 4154, the SAVE Native Women Act, which includes the tribal jurisdiction provision. To date, Rep. Boren (D-OK) has never explained his vote on the bill. In June 2012 and unrelated to his vote on H.R. 4970, Rep. Boren resigned as Ranking Member of the Subcommittee and announced plans to work for the Chickasaw Nation after he leaves Congress in 2013.

Following the passage of H.R. 4970, the New York Times published a story entitled, For Native American Women, Scourage of Rape, Rare Justice. On non-Indian land, state and local law enforcement has jurisdiction over the crime of rape. On Indian lands, unless a Federal statute has granted the State jurisdiction, the Federal government has exclusive jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians in Indian Country, including rape.

Yet the NY Times story states: 

The Justice Department did not prosecute 65 percent of the rape cases on Indian reservations in 2011. And though the department said it had mandated extra training for prosecutors and directed each field office to develop its own plan to help reduce violence against women, some advocates for Native American women said they no longer pressed victims to report rapes.

See also the 2010 Government Accountability Office Report regarding the high rates of declination by the Federal government of violent crimes in Indian Country.  While it does not provide statistics on domestic violence or sexual assault by non-Natives on Native Americans, it does stand for the proposition that Federal law enforcement is not the answer to violent crimes in Indian Country.

In response to the NY Times Article, Reps. Edward Markey (D-MA) and, ironically, Dan Boren (D-OK) wrote a letter to House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings and Subcommittee Chairman Don Young of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs for a hearing on the matter. To date, no hearing has been held nor has there been a public response to Reps. Markey and Boren’s request.

Efforts to reauthorize VAWA have been in limbo since H.R. 4970 passed the House in May but these efforts have recently seen movement.  VAWA expired in 2011 so lawmakers are eager to reauthorize the bill before Congress adjourns the 112th Congress. However, the bill is reportedly being held up by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor over the tribal jurisdiction provision. It appears all other issues have been resolved except for the tribal jurisdiction provision. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy confirmed Republican Leaders’ intransigence on the matter on the Senate Floor on December 6, 2012. 

To address Cantor’s concern with the tribal jurisdiction provision in S. 1925,  Republican Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Tom Cole (R-OK), Mike Simpson (R-ID), John Kline (R-MN), and Patrick McHenry (R-NC) introduced H.R. 6625, the Violence Against Indian Women Act of 2012, as a compromise on December 3, 2012.  The bill includes the tribal jurisdiction provision but also a provision allowing a defendant to remove the case to Federal court if the defendant believes their rights have been violated by the tribal government. 

We wait to see if the compromise language will satisfy Majority Leader Eric Cantor so that the reauthorization of VAWA can pass before Congress adjourns the 112th Congress.

In the meantime, organizations such as the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women are advocating for a VAWA bill that includes protection for Native American women and encourage people to call Majority Leader Cantor and Speaker Boehner at: 

Speaker Boehner:              202.225.6205 
Leader Cantor:                202.225.2815

And encourage advocates to use these tweets to amplify the message:

@EricCantor Pls accept Issa’s HR 6625 compromise on tribal jurisdiction as a path forward to get #VAWA done for all victims! #PassVAWA2012

@GOPLeader Pls accept Issa’s HR 6625 compromise on tribal jurisdiction as a path forward to get #VAWA done for all victims! #PassVAWA2012

@SpeakerBoehner Pls accept Issa’s HR 6625 compromise on tribal jurisdiction. A path forward to get #VAWA done for all victims! #PassVAWA2012

Huffpo: Eric Cantor, Joe Biden In Talks Amid Stalled Tribal Provision

Link is here.


Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the author of the Senate VAWA bill, went to the Senate floor on Thursday and plainly announced that House Republican leaders are blocking his bill “because of their objections to [the] … tribal provision.”

Leahy explained the provision, probably the least understood of the three additions in the Senate bill: It gives tribal courts limited jurisdiction to oversee domestic violence offenses committed against Native American women by non-Native American men on tribal lands. Currently, federal and state law enforcement have jurisdiction over domestic violence on tribal lands, but in many cases, they are hours away and lack the resources to respond to those cases. Tribal courts, meanwhile, are on site and familiar with tribal laws, but lack the jurisdiction to address domestic violence on tribal lands when it is carried out by a non-Native American individual.

That means non-Native American men who abuse Native American women on tribal lands are essentially “immune from the law, and they know it,” Leahy said.

The standoff over including VAWA protections for Native American women comes at a time of appallingly high levels of violence on tribal lands. One in three Native American women have been raped or experienced attempted rape, the New York Times reported in March, and the rate of sexual assault on Native American women is more than twice the national average. President Barack Obama has called violence on tribal lands “an affront to our shared humanity.”

Of the Native American women who are raped, 86 percent of them are raped by non-Native men, according to an Amnesty International report. That statistic is precisely what the Senate’s tribal provision targets.

The two sources say, to Cantor’s credit, his staff has said they’re willing to try to come up with other solutions to responding to violence against women on tribal lands, as long as the solution doesn’t give tribes jurisdiction over the matter. But proponents of the Senate bill see the limited jurisdictional change as the only realistic way to address the problem.

Some House Republicans do support giving tribes that limited jurisdictional authority and have put forward a solution of their own. Earlier this week, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) introduced a bill that has the same jurisdictional language for tribes as the Senate bill, but would also allow the defendant to move his case to a federal court if he feels his rights were violated in a tribal court. As a standalone bill that wades into complex jurisdictional laws, though, even Issa told HuffPost last week that the bill has little chance of passing in the lame duck.