Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church, writes about the Violence Against Women Act which is now up for renewal in Congress.
The Episcopal Church has gone on record, along with many other religious groups and leaders, as being opposed to the changes to VAWA as proposed in the House bill.
The Senate-passed version leaves the law pretty much intact and even plugs some gaps in the current version. The House version, on the other hand, takes away protections for native American women, immigrant women (especially those who are undocumented) and others.
Anderson, focusing on Native Americans and domestic violence, makes the case to preserve the law in its most complete form.
This year, the Violence Against Women Act is up for reauthorization in Congress. In early May, the Senate reauthorized the act with new provisions that would permit tribal authorities to have jurisdiction over domestic violence, dating violence and violations of protection orders committed by nonindigenous perpetrators.
Unfortunately, earlier this week, the House passed a different version, which strips the protections that Native women need and also puts immigrant women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at risk.
Since the Violence Against Women Act was first enacted in 1994, it has helped communities across America mount a coordinated response against domestic and dating violence. By working together, courts, law enforcement authorities, prosecutors and those who serve victims have helped ensure higher rates of reporting, prosecution and victim support among women who have endured domestic violence.
But because tribal authorities do not have jurisdiction over so many domestic violence cases on their reservations, Native communities have not benefited from the Violence Against Women Act in the same way as the rest of the country.
For centuries, the church and the United States government have made a terrible mistake by stripping Native people of basic human rights. Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act with full provisions for tribal jurisdiction of domestic and dating violence is an essential step in righting that wrong.
The letter from religious leaders to Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi here focuses on other impacts of the House version, especially towards women who are not citizens.
On behalf of the undersigned faith leaders and faith-based organizations concerned about victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, and other forms of violence, we write to express our concerns about Title VIII of the House Judiciary Committee-approved version of H.R. 4970, legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which we understand the House of Representatives plans to vote on this week.
Faith communities are on the front lines, identifying victims, providing refuge, referring victims and their families for services, and offering hope and healing. In times of crisis, victims often turn to faith leaders for support and moral guidance because they see places of worship as a sanctuary from the horrors they have experienced. Through our ministry with victims, we have learned that abusers often exploit a victim’s immigration status, leaving individuals extremely vulnerable and afraid to report the abuse to law enforcement, assist in the prosecution of crimes, and seek services.
Congress created VAWA in 1994, and it has voted twice since then to reauthorize the law, each time with broad bipartisan support. However, we are deeply troubled by Title VIII of H.R. 4970. Sections 801, 802, and 806 would actually roll back protections in current law for battered non-citizens, making them more vulnerable and, in some cases, endangering their lives. We urge you to strike these provisions from the bill before the measure is brought before the full House of Representatives for a vote.
VAWA is an effective tool in combatting the devastating crimes of domestic violence and providing lifesaving programs and services. We urge Congress to preserve and improve protections for vulnerable immigrant victims.