Today is the third day since 1994 that the United States doesn’t have a Violence Against Women Act in place. That’s right, after nearly two decades of bipartisan support, Congress has allowed VAWA to expire. (Here’s a .pdf of the bill, if you can stand to read it.)
When I say Congress, what I really mean is the House of Representatives. And when I say the House of Representatives, I really mean a small group of batshit crazy conservative Republicans — and specifically House Majority Leader, Republican Eric Cantor. I’m talking about this guy:
Don’t get me wrong. VAWA isn’t a perfect law. No law is without flaws. And, to be fair, one of Cantor’s complaints about VAWA has some merit. Not much, but some. Cantor and his fellow Republicans complain about a provision of the law that allows immigrant women married to abusive US citizens to gain a temporary (up to four years) residency status while their case is resolved.
Right now you’re probably saying to yourself, Dude, giving abused immigrant women temporary US residency sounds like a good thing. And you’re right, it is — under most circumstances. The physical, emotional, and sexual violence committed against mail-order brides and other immigrant spouses often goes unreported in part because the victims are also threatened with being sent back to their native countries. This provision of the law protects them. However, there have been a small number of immigrant women who have falsely claimed abuse in order to gain a green card. Indeed, this seems to have become a tactic used by some Russian organized crime gangs. There are maybe two or three dozen known or suspected cases of Russian brides making such a claim.
So there are a few legitimate problems with the law. But Eric Cantor and other conservative Republicans aren’t opposed to the law simply because a minor loophole has benefited twenty or thirty Russian immigrants. No, they also oppose it because it offers protections for lesbians and Native American women.
Seriously. I know that sounds completely fucking insane, but I swear I’m not making that up. The guys are actually opposed to extending the law to protect certain groups of women.
Cantor claims his problem with the provisions protecting Native women is that it extends the jurisdiction of tribal justice to include non-Native American men. Right now, if a white guy commits a crime of violence against a Native woman on a reservation — if he beats her, or rapes her, or murders her — tribal police and tribal courts can’t act. The crime has to be reported to Federal authorities, who generally don’t reside on the reservation or have offices on the reservation. So it may take hours for them to respond. Failure to respond quickly means evidence is lost or tainted. Without evidence, prosecutions either fail or, more often, prosecutors simply decline to prosecute.
A report by the General Accounting Office noted that prosecutors declined to bring charges against 52% of the violent crimes reported on reservations. Why? Lack of evidence. What makes this even more serious is the data reported in the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010:
34 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes
39 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be subject to domestic violence
A third of Native American women will report being raped and/or beaten by domestic partners. Let me repeat that, because it boggles the mind. A third of Native American women will report being raped and/or beaten. Some of those rapists and abusers will be white men. Most of their crimes won’t be reported. Of those that are reported, about half won’t even be prosecuted, primarily because of inadequate evidence collection.
The new provisions in VAWA gives tribal police and courts some limited authority to investigate and prosecute non-Native Americans accused of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes against Native American women on Indian reservations. That’s it. That’s all it does. For some reason, Eric Cantor and his Republican friends think it’s inappropriate for tribal police to investigate white suspects or prosecute white defendants.
As for their opposition to including lesbians in VAWA, the only conclusion I can draw is this: they just don’t care if lesbians get raped or have the shit beat out of them. What other explanation is there?
But I have a suggestion for Eric Cantor. This is my suggestion:
Eric, don’t think of victims of violence in terms of their immigrant status, or their ethnicity, or their sexual preference. Just think of them as victims of violence. Then grow the fuck up and do the right thing. In a few days a new session of Congress will begin. Pass VAWA.
Oh, and really, stop being such a dick.
December 31, 2012
Open Letter to the Honorable Eric Cantor
Please forward widely
ERIC CANTOR’S PHONE NUMBER: 202-225-2815
ERIC CANTOR’S FAX NUMBER: 202-225-0011
We are writing to you as Native women. We are seeking to understand your actions and decisions in regards to the Violence Against Women Act. We appeal to you as a husband, father, son, and brother to look closely at this issue and help us find justice and safety.
Tribal nations have a long history of protecting women. Our systems are fair to every person, regardless of race. As someone who values small, local government we respectfully request that you restore tribal sovereignty over this small portion of crimes that hurt us so deeply. The Senate version of VAWA as well as the Issa/Cole bill will offer our local communities more options in the face of violence. It will also have the potential to lessen our dependence on federal prosecutors so that we can continue to thrive as sovereign nations. This narrow legislation is specifically designed to help us help ourselves.
When a Native woman is a victim of violence, our entire community suffers. This bill is not just about protecting individual women, but about protecting our children and extended families.
Since 1994, VAWA has been a largely bipartisan effort to help protect victims.
We are therefore genuinely puzzled about the specific objections that you have to this legislation. Perhaps there are tribal leaders and attorneys who can help answer some of your questions and address your concerns. We ask you to schedule a meeting with tribal leaders to discuss this matter. If you choose not to meet with Native women and tribal leaders on this critical matter, we will be left to wonder about your motivations and intentions. If you choose not to meet with tribal leaders, please issue a written statement or explanation about your stance on the tribal provisions of VAWA so that we know where you stand.
Given that time is running out to make VAWA happen, we ask that you schedule an in-person meeting or phone call today, December 31, 2012.
We remain hopeful and determined that you will do the right thing and vote to support Native women.
We will continue to advocate for Native women for decades to come, and we are teaching our children and grandchildren how to advocate for themselves so that when we are gone, the work will continue. Our presence will be felt in Washington for many years to come.
Bonnie Clairmont, Ho-Chunk
Sarah Deer, Mvskoke
There are always going to ne people who try to cheat the system. If we didn’t enact laws because of it, we would have no laws.