A stronger Violence Against Women Act

MAYA RHODAN | 3/17/2013, 3:57 p.m.
When Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., stood near President Barack Obama on March 7 as he signed the Violence Against Women ...
President Barack Obama, joined by Attorney General Eric Holder, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Md., members of women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress, signs the Violence Against Women Act, March 7, at the Interior Department in Washington. – Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

— “This is a country where everybody should be able to pursue their own measure of happiness and live their lives free from fear no matter who you are, no matter who you love,” Obama said. “That’s what today’s about.”

The expanded act will also allow tribal courts to prosecute non-Natives who are perpetrators of sexual violence. Although non-Indians commit 75 percent of abuse of Native women, non-Indians could not be prosecuted by tribal courts and often were not prosecuted at all. The rate of domestic violence among Native American women is nearly 40 percent.

“The passage of the Violence Against Women Act gives tribes badly needed tools to combat the epidemic of violence and abuse in Indian country that has been enabled by inadequate judicial and legal authority,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the only Native American in Congress, in a statement on the act. “Like all legislation, the bill is not perfect … when it comes to tribal issues, however, the legislation gets it right.”

Native American women are also killed at a rate 10 times the national average, while 1 in 3 women in tribal communities are raped in their lifetime according to the Indian Law Resource Center, and 3 in 5 will be assaulted.

The reauthorized law also addresses violence among teens and young adults, which has seen a spike in the past decade. According to the teen dating advocacy group Break the Cycle, young women, ages 16 to 24, experience dating violence at a rate that is almost triple the national average.

In the new law, schools, youth organizations and domestic violence groups will receive support to better target young adults. Colleges and universities will also be required to provide information, support and resources on dating, sexual and domestic violence to students.

The bill also expands housing assistance for abused women. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families.

This is the first time since the law has been passed that reauthorization was met with some resistance, this time over the inclusion of women in the LGBT community.

In the end, the House passed the legislation by a margin of 286-138 and the Senate by a vote of 68-31, with one senator not voting.

“Back when Joe wrote this law, domestic abuse was too often seen as a private matter, best hidden behind closed doors. Victims too often stayed silent,” Obama said. “But one of the great legacies of this law is that it didn’t just change the rules, it changed our culture.”