On March 7, 2013 President Barack Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) into law. This is legislation, originally crafted nearly twenty years ago to address issues of domestic violence and rape.
VAWA has traditionally been passed with bipartisan support but upon expiration during the last congress it failed to be renewed. The act is essential in providing funding for the domestic abuse hotline that has provided emergency assistance for 2 million women since its creation. The act also funds a network of shelters so that survivors of domestic abuse are not forced to choose between safety and shelter. This aspect is being expanded in the current legislation to include housing assistance to help persons leaving violent homes to be able to transition from shelters to more stable housing.
Two significant expansions in this iteration of the legislation include a non-discrimination clause based on sexual orientation. This clause asserts that services will be available to those in need regardless of the orientation of the survivor, thus protecting women and men in same sex relationships from being barred from utilizing services because of their orientation.
The second significant change is that tribal courts have been given authority to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault that occur on tribal lands in the case where the perpetrator is not Native American. This closes a gaping loophole in which non-native persons were accountable to neither the tribal court nor the local municipal or state police because of issues of jurisdiction and sovereignty. Native American’s have suffered a much higher rate of sexual assault than the general public and 70% of the perpetrators are non-Native. Cases that have in the passed involved a question of jurisdiction have had a significantly lower likelihood of prosecution, when compared to crimes committed against other people of color or white victims.
This change in legislation is an incredibly important step in addressing domestic violence, but as with so many issues legislation can play only so much of a role. Along with changes in policy there must be changes in perception and changes of the heart. Visit the Fear not: Seek peace in our homes to find MCC resources on domestic violence including information on abuse prevention and response as well as “Created Equal: Women and Men in the image of God,” a biblical reflection on creation and gender.