Jurisdiction over sexual assaults committed on Native American lands may be the final sticking point in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which has been stalled on Capitol Hill since it expired in September of 2011. According to Huffington Post, Vice President Joe Biden and House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) are meeting in an attempt to re-start negotiations on the provisions that were rejected by House Republicans.
Neither Biden's nor Cantor's offices would go on the record saying that talks are underway until Wednesday, when Cantor said in remarks on the House floor that he and the vice president are hopeful of reaching a deal.
"I am speaking with the vice president and his office and trying to resolve the issue of the differences surrounding the VAWA bill," Cantor said. "This week I've actually been encouraged to see that we could very well see agreement on VAWA, and I'm very hopeful that that comes about. But I am encouraged about the discussions that my office is having with the vice president's office right now, that bill being a high priority of Vice President Biden."
The VAWA has historically been an uncontroversial policy that both parties have renewed without incident every 5 years since it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994. In 2011, however, the Act was modified to include protections for undocumented immigrants, LGBT people and women on Native American reservations who are assaulted by non-Native American men.
Republicans balked at the changes and the Act was left to expire. Now, in the wake of stinging defeats in the November elections, particularly at the hands of women and minorities, the GOP may see renewing the VAWA as a way of making inroads with women voters.
The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in April including the new provisions in the VAWA, but the Republican-led House voted down the additional protections, passing their own version of the bill in May with protections of LBGT people, immigrants and Native American women omitted. Reportedly, the GOP is willing to negotiate on the provisions pertaining to LGBTs and immigrants, but they refuse to budge on the question of tribal justice.
The fact that Cantor is working with Biden, who was one of the Act's original 1994 co-sponsors, apparently demonstrates his seriousness on the matter. The lame duck Congress will reportedly continue to try and hammer out a deal up until the holiday break.
Currently, Native American women who are attacked by non-Native American man on tribal lands have no recourse. Tribal law has no jurisdiction over outsiders, something the men who attack Native American women know and take full advantage of.
According to Huffington's Jennifer Bendery, "One in three Native American women have been raped or experienced attempted rape, the New York Times reported in March, and the rate of sexual assault on Native American women is more than twice the national average. President Barack Obama has called violence on tribal lands 'an affront to our shared humanity.'"
Bendery continued, "Of the Native American women who are raped, 86 percent of them are raped by non-Native men, according to an Amnesty International report. That statistic is precisely what the Senate's tribal provision targets."
Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, finds Cantor and the Republicans' stance on tribal rights to be indefensible.
"Who is Eric Cantor to say that it's okay for some women to get beaten and raped?" she said. "If they happen to be Native women who are attacked by a non-Native man, as far as Eric Cantor is concerned, those women are tossed."
[image of Joe Biden via Ctr for American Progress Flickr]