In a sad testament to the increasing prevalence of anti-women legislation, for the first time since its passing in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has failed to be renewed by Congress. This bipartisan bill is regularly reauthorized without any debate or fanfare, however this development is not surprising in light of the multitude of attacks against women in 2012.
The newfound controversy surrounding VAWA is attributed to added provisions which aim to extend protections for 30 million LGBT individuals, Native Americans, and undocumented immigrants. Republican leadership in the House comprised the opposition of the bill with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) saying they, “would not bring it up, just like they wouldn’t bring up funding for Sandy [hurricane damage].”
In April, the Senate passed a bipartisan VAWA with the extended protection for the three aforementioned groups. This version of the Bill was met with opposition by Republicans in the House who felt the extended measures for these groups were “politically driven.” As a response to the revised, Senate sponsored bill, the House passed VAWA without the additional provisions. Yet in the weeks prior to the VAWA renewal deadline, several supporters of the provision-less House VAWA stated they, “would now support the broader Senate bill — and predicted it would pass if Republican leaders let it come to the floor for a vote.”
In refusing to address the issue in the final hours before the bill was set to expire, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) inhibited the passing of either the revised or original versions of the bill.
So what specific element of VAWA created both a polarized Congress and a schism within the Republican Party? While Democrats and a sufficient amount of Republicans support all components of the enhanced VAWA, House Republican leaders such as Eric Cantor put the bill negotiations at a standstill over one topic. Apparently, it all comes down to the section pertaining to Native American Women.
Statistics have revealed the shockingly high frequency of rape and sexual assault in Native American tribes. These women experience sexual assault at a rate of over twice the national average. Of these assaults, over eighty-six percent are committed by non-Native American men. Due to a lack of law enforcement resources, crimes committed on tribal lands usually go unaddressed, so there is no legal recourse for victims.
To combat this problem, the Senate’s provision in VAWA grants tribal courts limited jurisdiction to address violence committed against Native women by non-Native men. Throughout negotiations, Cantor was adamant that tribal jurisdiction remain out of the renewed VAWA. His stance is surprising as the provision has the backing of the Justice Department, with its assurance that Constitutional Law would not be circumvented.
Lacking what many Democrats deemed to be a substantive reason for opposing the measure, Cantor’s tactics infuriated supporters of the Bill. The re-authorization of VAWA was believed by many to be an opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate their concern for women’s issues. When not even Joe Biden’s last minute efforts at reigniting negotiations could get VAWA off the ground, members of both parties shared their disappointment with women losing their voice in politics.
Of the Republican Leaders, Sen. Murray states, “They have the opportunity to take up this bill and show women and men that they understand that women’s rights are important.” If the Republican Party is concerned about its relationship with women, she added, it should “put that concern to action.”