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Guest Commentary: Disappointed in VAWA votes

Posted: Wednesday, Mar 13th, 2013

The Violence Against Women’s’ Act (VAWA) was signed into federal law by President Obama on Thursday March 7, 2013 after finally passing the Senate and the House of Representatives. While advocates, survivors and supporters of this legislation celebrate and applaud its passage we in Wyoming are left with the fact that our three elected representatives to Congress-Senator Mike Enzi, Senator John Barrasso and Representative Cynthia Lummis all voted against the reauthorization of VAWA. These no votes are particularly disheartening as the reason cited by our Wyoming delegation for not supporting this legislation is that they believe that the current state of affairs on the reservations is acceptable and should not be changed-- i.e. non-native men who assault Native American women on the reservation are immune from prosecution in tribal court for those acts. This position is particularly difficult to understand and accept as Native American women are assaulted at a rate higher than non-native American women and a majority of those assaults are committed by non-native men who could not be prosecuted in tribal court due to jurisdictional issues. Under the newly passed VAWA this jurisdictional gap will be remedied and non-native men who assault Native American women on reservations will now be subject to tribal court jurisdiction for some domestic violence related misdemeanor crimes. This provision was not supported by our three elected representatives.

The Violence Against Women’s Act supports programs and initiatives for all victims whether they are male or female and it now provides stronger protections for Native Americans. Law enforcement and prosecutors rely on this legislation to combat these heinous crimes – to protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable. VAWA supports formula funds to Wyoming programs that provide direct services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking; it provides funds to train law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges and supports culturally specific set asides for underserved populations. It is unfortunate that Wyoming’s three representatives do not support legislation that addresses issues that concern a majority of their constituents. Despite repeated messages and calls to Representative Lummis, Senator Enzi and Senator Barrasso by victims and advocates and concerned constituents they chose to go against the best interest of women and men who are victims of these horrible crimes and failed to support VAWA.

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