Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, moves out of committee

WINDOW ROCK -- On Sept. 12, Navajo Nation First Lady Vikki Shirley announced that good progress is being made to reauthorize the 10-year-old Violence Against Women Act, one of the priorities of her office.

She said the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass S. 1197 out of committee on Sept. 8. It now goes forward to a floor vote. VAWA will expire on Sept. 30 after 10 years of success. Its principle sponsors are Sen. Joseph Biden, Arlen Specter and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

"I ask everyone to stand and support this life-saving legislation," First Lady Shirley said. "I ask you to support VAWA 2005 to help continue the fight to save women's lives."

On Sept. 13, she met with Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano who has said she would help seek reauthorization of the law. Since last month, the Governor has spoken to other governors to enlist their support for this important law, too.

Domestic violence is the number one crime on the Navajo Nation but many people deny it exists, the First Lady said. She said allowing VAWA to expire would send a devastating message to all native women and give a green light to perpetrators of violent crime.

Statistics on domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking represent a threat not only to Native women but native nations. According to the U.S. Department of Justice:

•Three of four American Indian women experience physical assault in their lifetimes.

• One in three American Indian women will be raped during their lifetimes.

• Stalking of Indian women is twice that of any other population.

"The safety and very lives of Native women are threatened daily," First LadyShirley said. "Native women and native nations need reauthorization of this bill."

She's served on Governor Napolitano1s Commission on Arizona State Domestic Violence since 2003 and has served on New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's Advisory Board on Domestic Violence.

VAWA 2005 continues the STOP Violence Against Indian Women Program which provides $22.5 million dollars for increased services and training for tribal officers and prosecutors. The program works to ensure that victims are safer, better supported by their communities, and treated more uniformly and sensitively by first-response workers.

VAWA 2005 also provides for grants to tribes to encourage arrest and enforce protection orders. These have helped to increase accountability of perpetrators of these crimes through prosecution in tribal courts.

Specifically, VAWA 2005 will:

• Increase funding for tribal programs to provide safety for native women and their children.

• Authorize grants to provide services to victims over age 50.

• Help shelters and other service providers better serve victims with disabilities.

• Provide funding to support rape crisis centers and other programs providing direct services to victims of sexual assault.

• Provide access for Native Women's Coalitions to sexual assault funding previously unavailable.

• Authorize grant programs to create and improve services to youth and young adults.

• Prevent violence against women and children by reaching out to families at risk.

• Train health care workers to recognize and respond to domestic and sexual violence.

• Create housing solutions for victims, including allowing victims to access the criminal justice system while maintaining their housing.

• Create a tribal division within the Office on Violence Against Women.

• Authorize grants for major research on violence against Indian women.

• Provide funding to establish a tribal adult sexual assault and order of protection registry.

• Provide a way for native law enforcement agencies to better track perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault.

"VAWA is important legislation that aims to protect victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking," Mrs. Shirley said. "It gives hope to Indian women and their children that safety is possible in their lifetime."

(George Hardeen is Navajo Nation Communications Director.)

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