Last Thursday, the House of Representatives voted to reauthorize a version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that the Senate had approved earlier this year. The final vote to clear the measure came after the House rejected a Republican alternative that received little support from the GOP. VAWA provides federal grants to state and local authorities, nonprofits, and universities to implement programs and provide personal safety services aimed at reducing domestic violent (DV), sexual assault and stalking.
Domestic and intimate partner violence contributes to HIV vulnerability by making it difficult or impossible for many victims to negotiate condom usage. Additionally, abusive partners may also prevent victims from accessing medical services that could reveal undiagnosed HIV infection. In turn, NMAC urged Congress to reauthorize VAWA with explicit protections for additional populations vulnerable to intimate partner violence: LGBT Americans, Native women, and undocumented immigrants. Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of domestic violence, and can face long distances traveling to federal court. Additionally, non-Indians are responsible for most of the domestic violence perpetrated on reservations, yet tribal authorities lacked the jurisdiction to prosecute them – a fact remedied by the latest VAWA reauthorization.
VAWA has been easily reauthorized twice since 1994, but the latest renewal became saddled with election-year politics and policy fights over protections designed to ensure access to services for these highly vulnerable populations. Fortunately, the contested provisions remained in the language authorized by the House last week, and are expected to be signed into law by President Obama.
VAWA presents an exceptional remedy to victims of domestic violence, offering resources for robust national DV programmatic work and the ability to bring abuse charges in both federal and tribal courts. NMAC is elated that strong protections, programs, and legal remedies have been included in the latest iteration of VAWA, as intimate partner violence is a significant and documented contributor to heightened vulnerability to HIV infection, as well as a barrier to care and treatment retention for those living with HIV.