Editorial Staff

Violence Against Women Act, National Sovereignty, and Crime: Who Has Jurisdiction?

Re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act has hit a snag.

The House of Representatives and the Senate have each passed versions of the act. However, the two branches have not been able to reconcile their versions and send a cohesive law to the President. The heart of the battle stems over new provisions which were inserted by Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy. New provisions include “an expansion of the law to assure protections for gays, lesbians and transgender people; authority for tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence on reservations; and an increase in the number of visas allowed for illegal immigrants who are victims of abuse and help police prosecute the offenders.”

Laws like this illustrate how politics is becoming more and more a game designed to get as many special rights for special interest groups as possible. What ever happened to the belief that hitting someone is wrong, no matter whether that person is gay, straight, lesbian, black, white, or whatever? In a land where we already have laws that say you do not have the right to hit another person at will–even if you live with, have sex with, and eat meals with that person–the question of why non-heterosexual people have to be specifically included is questionable. It is equally questionable why said people are not already included under the former laws, which govern all citizens of the United States.

Visas for illegal immigrants who are abused is also a thorny issue. An illegal immigrant, whom I am presuming will most likely be a woman, may give birth while she is here illegally, thus ensuring citizenship rights for her child under birthright citizenship laws in the US. On the other hand, a person who is being abused may fear talking to police about her attacker if she fears being deported, thus allowing an abuser to go unpunished.

Sexual violence and Native American Women

According to Department of Justice statistics, as reported by the New York Times, one in three American Indian women has been raped or experienced an attempted rape. Another article, this one from the Washington Post, states that more than 86 percent of rapes against Native American women are carried out by non-native men, most of them white. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1978 decision of Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe that tribal government have no criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. Before a criminal suspect can be prosecuted, tribal police and their non-Indian counterparts must hash out whether the suspect is Indian or not.

Experiencing high rates of sexual violence while the authorities figure out who has jurisdiction leaves Native women in a terrible bind.

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