(MintPress) – “We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion or a nationality, but it does have a gender,” says Rebecca Solnit, writer and activist, of the stark epidemic of violence against women in the United States and throughout the world.
Violence against women in the United States particularly has been garnering some attention lately after Congress failed last year to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. The landmark law was heralded as a sweeping change in how the America deals with domestic violence, but it unfortunately fell victim to partisanship in Washington.
But Republicans, after months of stalling, threw in the towel Thursday and gave the go-ahead for the House to accept a more ambitious Senate version of the bill, which was written by mostly Democrats.
Last year the Republican-controlled House refused to endorse a version of the bill which had been passed in the Senate that offered protection to gay, lesbian, transgender and Native American women.
Congress spent months debating provisions of the bill, which aimed at protecting Native women, who are disproportionately harmed by violence in the United States.
Some are now breathing a sigh of relief, as Congress was able to resolve the differences and are now sending the bill to protect U.S. women to the President’s desk.
The epidemic of violence against Indigenous women
Statistics indicate that while a rape is reported every 6.2 minutes in the United States., the estimated total is potentially five times as high, meaning that there may well be a rape occurring every minute.
Women in Native American communities have particularly been devastating affected by violence for centuries in the United States.
“The extent of violence against Native and Indigenous women is as horrifying as the impunity that permits it,” writes Manuela Picq, professor and research fellow at Amherst College in a piece for Al-Jazeera.
“Tribal demands are holding up the reauthorisation of the landmark Violence Against Women Act in the United States Congress. Apparently, conservative Republican congressmen cannot agree whether to allow Native American courts to prosecute non-Indians who rape women on tribal land. Yet every new report confirms what we already know: that Native women are victims of widespread abuse and their access to justice is extremely limited. In fact, more often than not, the justice system itself is the problem.”
Native women suffer violence at disproportionately high numbers in America. Almost 90 percent of the reported cases of rape or sexual assault against Native women are committed by non-Native men, the U.S. Department of Justice reports.
And Amnesty International reports that sexual violence against Indigenous women in the United States is widespread. Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the U.S., government statistics have revealed.
Moreover, the organization found in interviews with Indigenous women that they didn’t know anyone in their community who had not experienced sexual violence.
Violence against women law hits a snag in tribal communities
“Though rape is always an act of violence, there is evidence that Indigenous women are more likely than other women to suffer additional violence at the hands of their attackers,” the organization concluded in a report they did on the issue, called “The Maize of Injustice.”
Historically, Indigenous women were raped by settlers and soldiers, including during the Trail of Tears and the Long Walk, and such attacks are described by experts not as random or individual, but as tools of conquest and colonization. “The attitudes towards Indigenous peoples that underpin such human rights abuses continue to be present in in the USA today,” Amnesty International says.
“They contribute to the present high rates of sexual violence perpetrated against Indigenous women and help to shield their attackers from justice. They also reflect a broader societal norm that devalues women and girls and creates power dynamics that enable sexual violence against women of all backgrounds.” Despite this documented and well-known history, recent statistics which suggest this remains to be a dire problem in the 21st century.
However, due to jurisdictional loopholes, it has become near impossible for tribal communities to address sexual assault efficiently. Complex legal arrangements created by the U.S. federal government impede tribes from prosecuting non-Native men who commit crimes on tribal territory.
Activists call for action to turn the tide of violence
“Unless the U.S. Congress wants to countenance the continued violation of Native women’s rights, it must quickly grant the tribal authority demanded. And if tribes are serious about protecting women rights, they should go the extra step to guarantee women’s decision-making power in the administration of justice on tribal land. If in doubt, they may look south for inspiration,” Picq said.
While both the House and Senate passed bills last year to reauthorize the act, differences over new provisions for gay, immigrant and Native American victims of intimate partner violence were opposed by the Republican-led House, which eventually derailed reauthorization of the bill.
And, while there was growing support by both legislative bodies for reauthorization of the bill, and an increasingly growing demand from the public for action in the matter over the past few months, disagreement about a provision in the bill to hopefully ameliorate the high incidence of domestic and sexual abuse of Native American women by giving new powers to tribal police and courts held up passage of the bill.
Activists and tribes in the United States argued that the bill needed to ensure tribal jurisdiction, because as they point out, the judicial system is grossly failing Native women. The Save Native Women Act proposes to include key tribal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. However, an effort by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to weaken the tribal court provision, was introduced earlier this year. It failed as the provisions were passed Thursday, restoring tribal jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native men who abuse women in Indian country.
Finally it seems Congress was able to step up and insure justice for all — but this would not have happened without the tireless efforts of activists. President Obama has said he’ll sign the bill as soon as it hits his desk.