Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) on Wednesday called on Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, claiming new provisions in the bill were "crucial" to protect Native American women from domestic abuse.
The provision would allow tribal courts to prosecute non-Native American individuals for domestic violence crimes committed on tribal land.
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.
"Since its passage in 1994, domestic violence has decreased by over 50 percent," he said on the Senate floor. "And the victims of these crimes have been more willing to come forward. Knowing they are not alone. Knowing they will get the support they need. Knowing that crimes against women will not be tolerated."
"Unfortunately, not all women have received the full benefits of the Violence Against Women Act," Udall added.
Native American women are more than twice as likely than other women in the United States to be raped, and three out of five Native American women will experience domestic violence, he explained.
To make matters worse, many of those crimes "go unprosecuted and unpunished" because 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.
"Native women should not be abandoned to a jurisdictional loophole," Udall said. "In effect, these women are living in a prosecution-free zone."
Republicans oppose the current reauthorization of the VAWA because it would allow battered undocumented immigrants to claim temporary visas and expand protections to gays and lesbians. Republicans have drafted an alternative bill that eliminates the provisions related to Native Americans, undocumented immigrants and LGBT individuals.