From the very beginning, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) led the opposition to reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) — even leading Senate Judiciary Republicans to unanimously vote against it because they object to its protections for LGBT victims, immigrants and Native Americans. Grassley has now teamed up with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) “offer a substitute that would address GOP concerns with the bill.”
Although the full details of Grassley and Hutchinson’s watered down protections for domestic violence victims have yet to be released, it is likely that they will map Grassley’s previously stated opposition to providing greater support for LGBT, undocumented, and tribal victims of domestic violence. The Hutchison/Grassley amendment will likely leave out some victims who face particularly harsh discrimination. If Senate Republicans embrace Grassley’s earlier objections to reauthorizing VAWA, they will show that they are willing to tolerate a certain amount of domestic violence by ignoring certain victims:
For Native victims: In 86 percent of reported rapes or sexual assaults on Native women, the perpetrators are non-Native. While Hutchison has criticized the tribal provisions, saying that ‘any American’ could be imprisoned by tribal courts, in actuality, the provisions allow tribal members to prosecute a non-tribal people who commit domestic violence and who either live or work on a reservation, or are married to a tribal member. The Grassley / Hutchison amendment requires any domestic violence to be prosecuted in federal courts, meaning that rural tribal victims won’t seek help. Additionally, federal prosecutors “already decline to prosecute half of Indian Country crimes that are referred to them,” and with the added number of domestic violence crimes, victims are likely to never see justice.
For LGBT victims: The new version of the bill also lacks any additional provisions for the LGBT community, blanketing over LGBT-specific issues with gender neutral language that lumps the needs of gay and lesbian protections in with the needs of straight couples. The original version of VAWA says that domestic violence shelters cannot discriminate against gay, lesbian, or trans people, but the new version says nothing about this issue. Grassley has said that he does not believe discrimination in shelters is an issue — despite the fact that “44.6 percent of LGBT/HIV-positive survivors of intimate partner violence were turned away from shelters.”
For undocumented victims: The Grassley/Hutchison version of the bill takes out the added visas for undocumented people who are beaten and seek assistance from the state. The visas are put in place so that victims aren’t too scared to contact the authorities when they find themselves physically harmed or in danger. When such protections don’t exist, people are forced to work outside of the law to protect themselves.
But there may be a bit of good news in the amendment. It may offer increased funding for rape kits, the processing of which is notoriously backlogged in the criminal justice system across the U.S. This funding should be increased, but LGBT, Native American and immigrant victims should not have to suffer for it.
Devon Boyer, a council member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and a former law enforcement officer, shared the stories of two women who couldn’t see justice done to their abusers:
White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett spoke out against the Grassley/Hutchison amendment today, saying, “We believe it takes us backwards. It discourages local police departments from arresting domestic violence offenders, it deletes the new provisions for assisting same sex victims, which we believe are important, and it greatly weakens the new proposals to address the high rates of violence on college campuses, which is so important for our young people, and the Hutchison bill just generally leaves too many victims without protection.”