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Statement on the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2011

Thu, April 26, 2012

Chairman Akaka speaks on the Senate floor
Chairman Akaka speaks on the Senate floor today
(Senate Recording Studio video capture)

Washington D.C. - U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, delivered the following statement on the Senate floor today:

I rise today in support of S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2011.

Since its enactment in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has enhanced the investigation and prosecution of incidents of domestic and sexual violence, and provided critical services to victims and their advocates in court.  It has truly been a lifeline for women across the country, regardless of location, race, or socio-economic status.

For these reasons, VAWA's two prior reauthorizations were overwhelmingly bipartisan.  This year, however, a number of my colleagues are opposing the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization because they object to, among other things, the authority that it restores to Native American tribes to prosecute those who commit violent crimes against Native women.

This bill's tribal provisions address the epidemic rates of violence against Native women -- by enabling VAWA programs to more directly and promptly respond to their concerns and needs.  These tribal provisions are critical to the lives of Native women and doubly important to me as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs -- and a Native Hawaiian.

Native women are two-and-a-half times more likely than other U.S. women to be battered or raped.  These are extremely disturbing statistics: Thirty four percent of Native women will be raped in their lifetimes, and thirty nine percent will suffer domestic violence.  That's more than one out of every three Native women.  We must come together to put a stop to this.

Last summer, I chaired an oversight hearing entitled: "Native Women -- Protecting, Shielding, and Safeguarding Our Sisters, Mothers, and Daughters." I heard the heartbreaking stories that lie behind the grim and troubling statistics on violence against American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian women.
My committee heard from the Chief of the Catawba Nation, who gave a moving account of his experience growing up with domestic violence and the impact it had on the women and children in his community.  He also spoke of the importance of reauthorizing VAWA.

We heard from officials who described how existing laws are failing Native women.  We heard, for example, that women in tribal communities live in a confusing and dangerous jurisdictional maze - in which the absence of clear lines of authority often leads to offenders, many of whom are non-Native men, escaping investigation and prosecution, to say nothing of punishment.  This outrageous and unacceptable situation has led to repeated offenses against Native women that too often spiral into violence with tragic consequences for the women, their children, and their communities.

My committee also heard that Native women are being increasingly targeted by the sex-trafficking industry and that many have, according to police reports from tribal communities across the country, simply vanished into this terrible underworld.

A draft bill to address violence against Native women was circulated to a wide range of stakeholders for feedback.  This led to strengthened provisions in the draft bill, which I introduced as S. 1763, the Stand Against Violence and Empower Native Women Act, also known as the SAVE Native Women Act, in October.  The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a legislative hearing on my bill the following month, and then reported it out of the committee in December.

Since then, I have worked closely with my good friend and colleague, Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, as he developed S. 1925, which now includes the SAVE Native Women Act.

S. 1925's tribal provisions empower tribal courts to prosecute crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, or violations of protection orders, regardless of the race of the alleged abuser. This bill also strengthens research and programs to address sex trafficking.

Since VAWA was enacted eighteen years ago, and reauthorized twice since then, a hallmark of the law is that it has expanded its protections to classes of once neglected victims. Accordingly,      S. 1925's tribal provisions are consistent with VAWA's history, as well as its intent and purpose, which past Congresses have embraced.

Last week, fifty law professors from leading institutions across the country sent a letter to Congress expressing their "full confidence in the constitutionality of the legislation, and in its necessity to protect the safety of Native women."  And, just this week, the White House released a Statement of Administration Policy stating that it "strongly supports" these provisions, which will "bring justice to Native American victims."

I commend Chairman Leahy for his dedicated leadership in developing this bill.  He has truly worked in the spirit of aloha by partnering with the Indian Affairs Committee and other offices to craft a VAWA reauthorization bill that reasserts VAWA's intent, purpose, and history.  I would also like to say mahalo-thank you-to each of this bill's other bipartisan cosponsors."
As we all know, domestic and sexual violence continues to occur, and far too many women across the country are victims of these horrible acts. We have heard from victims, from service-providers, and from law enforcement that these crimes can leave victims with lasting emotional and physical scars, while endangering their security, their families, and their lives. This bill will strengthen the Violence Against Women Act and extend its protections to include Native women that are underserved in the current system.
This is not an issue that should divide us along partisan lines. On the contrary, it should unite us to take a stand against these awful crimes.  I urge you to join me and the rest of S. 1925's co-sponsors to protect our sisters, mothers, and daughters and pass this bill.

Video of Senator Akaka's floor statement is available here:


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