Congress created the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 with broad bi-partisan support. VAWA is an essential tool in combatting gender-based crimes, including domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault and other forms of violence against women. VAWA funds shelters and crisis centers, supports a national hotline for victims, and trains law enforcement to better investigate violence against women and offer support to survivors.
VAWA is reauthorized every five years, giving opportunity to update and improve tools and resources for protecting lives, but reauthorization is not automatic. The last VAWA reauthorization in 2013 was an important step forward in addressing legal barriers to safety and justice for Indigenous women, giving tribal courts the authority to exercise jurisdiction over all domestic violence offenders on tribal lands, making possible prosecuting offenders who previously faced no consequences for their crimes.
More must be done, including the important authority for tribal authorities to prosecute non-Indigenous perpetrators of sexual violence, child abuse, stalking, trafficking or assaults against law enforcement. Additionally, Alaska Native tribes were not included in the VAWA 2013 reauthorization.
In June 2019, the U.S. House passed a VAWA reauthorization (H.R. 1585), and now the Senate must also.
H.R. 1585 includes key provisions to protect Indigenous victims of sexual assault and keep Indigenous children safe from violence by expanding tribal jurisdiction over non-Indigenous perpetrators. The bill promotes tribal access to federal criminal databases, improves coordination and response rates across multiple jurisdictions and includes protection for Alaska Native tribes.
H.R. 1585 also offers significant new protections for survivors in federal public, subsidized and assisted housing; supports victims and survivors who need assistance rebuilding financially; addresses the needs of underserved communities; and improves the healthcare response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.
Significant ELCA social teaching supports these policy protections, including social statement Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action, social message on “Gender-Based Violence,” and the 2016 churchwide assembly action “Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.”
Your voice is needed to support the strongest possible VAWA reauthorization. During the coronavirus pandemic, violence against women has risen in what the United Nations has dubbed “a shadow epidemic.” Domestic violence has grown around the globe as people quarantine or shelter in place.
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