VAWA’s Exclusions

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In the isolated Alaskan villages where roads, reliable electricity and communication are undependable, “one in three American Indian women have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape”. The New York Times article “For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape” provides insight on how Native American women are disproportionately susceptible to rape and other forms of sexual assault throughout all the reservations. The rate of sexual assault among Native American women is more than twice the national average. The stats become more alarming in rural villages where sexual assault has become a norm among the young Native American women.

The Violation Against Women Act (VAWA), passed in 1994, allocated federal funds to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women. The recent reauthorization of VAWA raised controversy as many House Representatives believe that the new provisions still does not protect Native American women, the LGBT community as well as immigrant women. “Among those who commit crime of rape and domestic violence on reservations, 88 percent are non-Native offenders and under current law these abusers cannot be arrested or prosecuted on tribal lands,” stated in feministcampus.org.

What has been excluded from the VAWA is the ability for tribal courts to prosecute non-native Americans who are suspected of sexually harassing their Native American spouses and partners. Although this act is being reauthorized for the third time, there has been no proper and effective legislation to prevent or prosecute these cases of sexual assault that are disproportionately affecting Native women. Disagreement among American politicians plays a critical role in why legislation to protect Native American women, immigrant women and the LGBT community has been stagnant. The U.S senate fears that by empowering the tribal courts to prosecute and investigate sexual assault cases, that it would expand the tribal courts authority. In order to subordinate the tribal Native Americans, the U.S government is willing to allow native women to feel less safe and more susceptible to sexual abuse.

The hindrances that Native American villagers face in terms of preventative measures and treatment for sexually abused women are countless.  They include shortages of supplies in Native American hospitals such as a shortage of sexual assault kits, lack of birth control and lack of trained staff who can prepare rape examinations which is needed for documentation in rape court cases.  There is hope that with the current fight to reauthorize VAWA that the funds directed towards protecting women who are sexually abused can reach all victims equally.

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