Civil rights groups stated their opposition to the House version of the Violence Against Women Act on Monday, saying the bill lacked protections for minority groups.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and American Civil Liberties Union sent letters to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) on Monday to express their opposition to the five-year reauthorization of the VAWA as it currently exists in the House.
“Every battered person deserves protection, regardless of the race, sex, sexual orientation or immigrant status of the abused,” Wade Henderson and Nancy Zirkin of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote. “Therefore, we urge all members of the Judiciary Committee to oppose the bill.”
The House Judiciary Committee will markup the legislation on Tuesday.
The VAWA, originally passed in 1994 and reauthorized twice since, provides funding to local communities to improve their response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. The federal grants from the law support police training, victim services, transitional housing, and legal assistance.
But the House version of the reauthorization omits provisions related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, immigrant and Native women and men that were included in the Senate version. The Senate approved the Violence Against Women Act by a 68-31 vote in April.
In their letter (PDF) to Smith, the ACLU explained the importance of the provisions.
“Studies indicate that LGBT people experience domestic violence at roughly the same rate as the general population,” Laura W. Murphy and Vania Leveille wrote. “However, it is estimated that less than one in five LGBT domestic violence victims receives help from a service provider and less than in one in ten victims reports violence to law enforcement.”
The ACLU also noted that tribes cannot prosecute non-Native Americans for domestic violence crimes committed on tribal land. Only federal prosecutors have the authority to prosecute non-Native Americans for domestic violence crimes against their Native American spouses or partners. More than half of Native women are married to non-Native husbands.
“Because tribal governments lack the authority to prosecute an alleged non-Indian abuser and federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors are, for a variety of reasons, unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute, victims are left without legal protection or redress and abusers act with increasing impunity.”
When it comes to protecting immigrant survivors of domestic violence, the House version of the VAWA actually takes a step backwards, according to the ACLU.
“Title VIII of the bill undermines long-standing immigration provisions that protect vulnerable immigrant domestic violence survivors and enhance law enforcement efforts by enabling immigrant survivors to come forward and report abuse they have experienced.”
Eric W. Dolan
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