Last Thursday, Senator Diane Feinstein joined her colleagues, Senators Klobuchar, Murray, Hagen, Murkowski, and Shaheen to show support for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

The bill is encountering some staunch resistance. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.) said she was “stunned” by the delay [in bringing reauthorization to a vote] during a Thursday speech on the Senate floor. “Never before had there been any controversy in all of more than a decade and a half, in all of this time about this bill,” she continued. “This act is the centerpiece of the federal government’s effort to combat domestic violence and sexual assault. –from International Business Times

To watch their remarks on CSPAN, click here. We at CALCASA are deeply appreciative of Senator Feinstein’s ongoing support for VAWA and for her work to move this important piece of legislation forward in Washington, at a time where attacking women’s health, reproductive rights, and safety seems to be the topic de’jour.
Both the New York Times and the Gothamist weighed in on the intensely partisan debate over reauthorization, with support and votes falling strictly along party lines. The latest Senate version of the bill does have five Republican co-sponsors (including co-author Michael D. Crapo of Idaho) but in the Judiciary Committee hearing last month, the bill failed to get a single republican vote.
What’s the hang up? A lot of the debate around reauthorization is centered around marginalized communities such as LGBT, male, and Native American survivors. The Huffington Post published a piece by Nancy K. Kaufman. In her article “The Struggle to End Violence Against Women Encounters a Road Block”, Kaufman writes:

LGBTQ people encounter domestic violence at the same rate as the general population, yet a survey by the New York City Anti-Violence Project reported that in 2010 nearly half were turned away from domestic violence shelters and more than half of LGBTQ survivors were denied orders of protection. Few victim services and law enforcement agencies reported specific services for LGBTQ victims. Perhaps it is no wonder that less than one in ten of all LGBTQ victims reported the violence committed against them to police.
Immigrant women without legal status are especially vulnerable to abuse, since going to the authorities carries with it the risk of deportation while the abuser may go free. Since 2000, VAWA has offered victims of domestic violence and sexual assault protection against deportation when they aid in the investigation and prosecution of crimes. Immigrant victims can apply for a special visa, but only if law enforcement certifies that they have been cooperative. This new version of VAWA seeks to renew this very successful program, at the request of law enforcement agencies and advocates across the country.
Finally, the bill would increase access to justice for Native women living on tribal lands. The numbers are stunning. Native women are 2.5 times more likely than other U.S. women to be battered or raped. One-third of Native women will be raped in their lifetimes. Two-fifths will experience the tragedy of domestic violence. And, their legal situation greatly complicates their access to justice. Currently, criminal authority is limited to federal law enforcement agencies that can only prosecute misdemeanor crimes by non-Indians against Indians on tribal land. Sadly, U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse and related matters that occurred in Indian country from 2005-2009. VAWA reauthorization would give tribes the authority to prosecute misdemeanor domestic violence-related crimes when the abuser lives or works in the jurisdiction of the tribe, or is the spouse or intimate partner of a tribe member. It is time to close the gaps in the law to ensure that rapists and abusers cannot commit crimes against Native women with impunity.

CALCASA is working with the Nation Alliance to End Sexual Violence and Senator Feinstein’s office on this vital piece of legislation. If you’d like to get involved, visit the National Alliance Toolkit to sign letters, get updated information, and express your support!