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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 6th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 52 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 52

Locals celebrate the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act

BY AMY ASMAN

In a rare showing of bipartisanship, the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 28 passed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that extends legal protections to LGBT, Native American, and immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

A Republican version of the bill that left out stipulations for the aforementioned minority groups failed to garner enough support, so the House voted 286-138 to pass the Senate’s version instead. It’s now waiting to be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Under the updated legislation, undocumented immigrants who come forward to report a rape or other domestic violence crime will immediately become eligible for the U-Visa program, which gives victims temporary legal immigration status and the ability to work in the United States for up to four years.

Ann McCarthy, associate director of the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center in Lompoc, said many of the victims her organization works with don’t report crimes because they’re afraid of being deported.

 “Reporting [sexual assaults] is low anyway; it’s the most underreported crime because of the stigma attached to it,” McCarthy said. “There are so many more layers for immigrants thinking about reporting a crime as opposed to someone like me. I don’t worry about getting sent back to Virginia.”

The center provides services to victims regardless of whether they’ve reported the crime to the police, but, McCarthy said, “The only way to regain control is to report [the crime] to law enforcement.”

Thanks to the reauthorization, she said, the center will most likely receive “trickle down” funding from other larger organizations. The money will allow center staff to continue serving and educating the local community.

“We’re educating [immigrants] about their rights. We tell them that deportation is not the first thing law enforcement is going to do. They’re going to investigate the crime and make sure that the victims are being taken care of,” McCarthy said.

Also under the newly reauthorized bill, governing bodies for Native American tribes will gain the authority to prosecute non-native people who commit sexual assault and other domestic violence crimes against tribal members.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar applauded the new legal provisions in a release to the media.

“By providing stronger protections and greater resources to states and Indian tribes, this legislation will make women and vulnerable populations safer,” Salazar said. “This legislation is especially significant for the First Americans because it closes a gaping legal loophole that prevented the arrest and prosecution of non-Indian men who commit domestic violence against Indian women on federal Indian lands.

“This historic legislation, which recognizes and affirms inherent tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians in domestic violence cases, will provide much-needed tools to tribal justice systems to effectively protect Indian women from abuse,” he said.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, one in three Native women is raped over her lifetime, and the majority of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, who were heretofore immune from prosecution by tribal courts.