H.R. 1585, a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), was introduced in the United States House of Representatives last week. This bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pennsylvania) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-California), presents the opportunity to maintain crucial funding for victims’ services and strengthen VAWA’s commitment to at-risk communities.
The Violence Against Women Act plays an important role in Maine’s response to domestic abuse and violence. It provides essential funding and establishes a legal framework that guides our response to domestic violence, dating abuse, stalking, and other related crimes.
The bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last week would make key improvements to VAWA, including:
- Expanding tribal jurisdiction over VAWA crimes;
- Increasing access to housing for survivors;
- Helping survivors gain and maintain economic independence;
- Supporting the healthcare system to better respond to domestic abuse; and
- Increasing funding for prevention efforts.
Of particular importance are the changes around tribal jurisdiction proposed in this bill. H.R. 1585 specifically names Maine’s tribes, rectifying a significant gap left by VAWA 2013 when Congress sought to give tribal courts the ability to prosecute non-native people who perpetrate domestic violence on tribal lands. Unfortunately, Maine’s tribes were among a small group that did not qualify under the 2013 bill and did not experience the benefits that tribes across the nation have seen as a result. H.R. 1585 would rectify that error and expand tribal jurisdiction to other VAWA crimes, including child abuse occurring within the contact of domestic abuse, human trafficking, stalking and sexual assault.
“It is not enough to simply reauthorize VAWA every five years,” says Francine Garland Stark, Executive Director of MCEDV. “We must take the opportunity to shift and evolve our systems in order to make sure protections are available for all people who need them. The tribal provisions are a clear example of this need, so we are very glad to see Maine tribes included specifically in this legislation.”
The Violence Against Women Act has expired, but VAWA grant programs are funded through September 30, 2019.