The Violence Against Women Act expired at the end of 2012 after House Republicans refused to accept the Senate bill’s protections for LGBT, Native American, and undocumented victims. Though the Senate passed another bipartisan VAWA reauthorization over a week ago, House Republicans may derail passage once again. On Friday, House GOP leaders released their own VAWA bill, stripping protections for LGBT individuals and adding a loophole for Native American victims.
Where the Senate bill granted access to federal grants for LGBT victims, the House bill is silent, removing all mention of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.” As a result of this omission, LGBT-inclusive crisis centers could be shut out from essential grant programs:
The House GOP bill entirely leaves out provisions aimed at helping LGBT victims of domestic violence. Specifically, the bill removes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the list of underserved populations who face barriers to accessing victim services, thereby disqualifying LGBT victims from a related grant program. The bill also eliminates a requirement in the Senate bill that programs that receive funding under VAWA provide services regardless of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The House bill also gives states some wiggle room by shifting greater authority to state government to decide which victimized groups are “underserved” and therefore deserve funding.
The Senate bill’s protections for Native American victims were also protested as “unconstitutional” and received vocal opposition from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Though the House bill does grant tribal courts the authority to prosecute non-native perpetrators of domestic abuse, these abusers can only receive a maximum sentence of 1 year. The bill states, “A participating tribe may exercise this special domestic violence jurisdiction over only domestic or dating violence offenses punishable by up to one year committed in Indian country against a tribal member or non-tribal member Indian who resides in Indian country.” The House also adds a provision allowing the accused to take their case to federal court if they feel their rights are being violated. Currently, Native American victims with non-native partners are caught in a limbo where tribal courts cannot touch perpetrators but federal law enforcement does not have jurisdiction.
Since its inception in 1994, VAWA has been instrumental in driving down the number of partner homicides and establishing community programs to help women in abusive situations.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), a chief advocate for VAWA in the Senate, blasted the House bill as a “non-starter” and called for moderate Republicans to take action: “It’s not a compromise, it’s an unfortunate effort to exclude specific groups of women from receiving basic protections under the law… The protections included in the Senate for new communities of women are not bargaining chips that can be played with in order to appease the far right in their party. These are badly needed new tools to give women an escape from a life stunted by abuse…It’s time for moderate Republicans in the House to step up and finally force their leadership to stop ignoring the calls of women across the country.”