Guest column: Violence Against Women Act essential

When I was in my early twenties, I was commissioned to serve as one of the youngest Chicago homicide detectives in the city’s history. The calls I responded to that stand in sharp relief in my memory now—some 50 odd years later—are those involving domestic violence.

I have no doubt that these heinous acts I witnessed, especially those involving children, will remain with me my entire life.

Historically a bipartisan bill, the Violence Against Women Act, known commonly as “VAWA”, first passed in 1994, strengthening protections for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and more. Since its inception, VAWA has been reauthorized and built upon countless times, until the Senate allowed it to expire in 2019.

This spring, I joined my colleagues in the House of Representatives in voting to pass a new reauthorization of VAWA—shoring up the program, increasing funding, and ensuring it works for those who need it most.

And I am leading efforts to do more. As the representative for the congressional district home to the highest population of Native Americans living on reservations, I know that few other communities have felt the painful repercussions of domestic violence and related crimes so deeply as tribal communities.

According to federal data, American Indians and Alaska Natives are twice as likely to experience rape or sexual assault crimes than people who are not American Indians or Alaskan Natives, and, on some reservations, American Indian women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average.

And police officers, including tribal police officers, are assaulted when responding to domestic disturbance calls more often than under any other policing circumstances. I’ve seen these altercations firsthand.

Recently, I re-introduced the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act, or “NYTOPA”, bipartisan legislation ensuring that not only survivors, but children and law enforcement officials involved in these cases, are protected in instances of domestic violence in tribal communities. My bill makes sure that tribes have the jurisdiction they need to prosecute those who commit these crimes and to protect all involved.

Additionally, though American Indian and Alaska Native communities face some of the highest victimization rates in the country, it is estimated that less than 0.7 percent of the Crime Victim’s Fund, or “CVF”, established under the 1984 Victims of Crime Act, reaches tribes.

With more women and children at home with their abusers over this past year, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many challenges already faced by survivors of domestic violence, and these impacts have disproportionately affected Native women. Along with NYTOPA, I re-introduced my bipartisan Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment, or “SURVIVE”, Act to increase the allocation of funds allotted to tribes under the CVF, ensuring that survivors in tribal communities can access the legal, medical, and counseling resources they need.

My bills have support from both sides of the aisle, and representatives from Alaska to Oklahoma; I urge the House to fast-track my legislation and the Senate to take up and pass VAWA without delay before more survivors who need it are left without the protections available to them through this life-saving bill.

As a member of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence and the Bipartisan Working Group to End Domestic Violence, we are working to end the cycle of these heinous crimes. I will keep fighting to ensure that survivors are believed, protected, and able to safely rebuild their lives.

Tom O’Halleran - D

U.S. House of Representatives, Arizona’s 1st Congressional District

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