Jun 20, 2017 - The Thing About VAWA… by Patty Stonefish

The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act included badly needed Tribal provisions – a great step forward – but if you take a closer look, things seem a bit off.

Seriously, take a closer look:


What crimes will be covered?

-Domestic Violence;
-Dating Violence; and
-Criminal violations of protection orders.

Sounds great, right? Exactly what we’ve been needing, right?

Not so much. If you take a closer look you’ll notice there are still many holes.

What Crimes Will Not Be Covered?
The following crimes will generally not be covered.

-Crimes committed outside of Indian country;
-Crimes between two non-Indians;
-Crimes between two strangers, including sexual assaults;
-Crimes committed by a person who lacks sufficient ties to the tribe, such as living or working on its reservation; and
-Child abuse or elder abuse that does not involve the violation of a protection order.

See what I mean?

Tribal jurisdiction over crimes of domestic violence isn’t all it’s (often) made out to be.

To be clear, the current tribal provisions in VAWA mean crimes of domestic violence (including sexual assault) are only covered if said crime meets the following criteria:

1. Crimes must be committed within Indian Country.
2. The attacker and survivor have a known relationship of sorts – they cannot be strangers.
3. The attacker must live or work within the reservation.
4. Child or Elder abuse is not covered unless it is in violation of a protection order.

These check boxes just feel like an extension of “But were they drunk?”, “What was she wearing the night she was raped?”, “Flirting with everyone like that, what’d they expect to happen?”, and so much more. It almost feels like they’re saying if this, this, and this do not exist, then it’s not a; rape, molestation, abuse, etc.

Furthermore, these check boxes leave many without the ability to pursue further action.

My Husband and I run a non-profit, ASRW – Arming Sisters Reawakening Warriors. We aim to re-empower and reawaken the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health of Indigenous communities through SELF-Defense. No, I’m not plugging this in as to score free advertisement – but rather to drive a point. At the end of an Arming Sisters course we take a moment to share stories. Stories of abuse, of trauma. (We share because telling your story doesn’t only have healing benefits for you, but those around you.) I start with myself, and one by one, women speak up and bare their scars.

I’ve been coast to coast now, and have given over 40 Arming Sisters courses. I have heard a lot of stories. The vast majority of these stories shared, would not be covered under VAWA.

The teen girls who were molested one night, but had no existing relationship with their attacker.

A woman who was physically assaulted on her way home from work by someone who was only there for a party.

The child who’s sexually assaulted after school – but there is no prior protection order in place.

I could go on and on – but I feel one shouldn’t need to or have to. It doesn’t take a lifetime of stories to point out the holes here. It’s pretty clear cut.

The 2013 VAWA Tribal provisions are a step forward, but leave much ground to be covered.

by Patty Stonefish

Last Real Indians