What the Signing of the Violence Against Women Act Means to Me

sarah deer

Sarah Deer (Mvskoke Nation and Member of Amnesty International USA’s Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council), with Ruth Jewell (Penobscot nation and President BOD of National Coalition Against Domestic Violence), Representative Tom Cole (Republican champion of VAWA and member of the Chickasaw nation) and Rita Smith, Executive Director of National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

By Sarah Deer, Mvskoke Nation and Member of Amnesty International USA’s Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council

I was 5 years old when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Oliphant v. Suquamish in 1978.  The decision stripped tribal governments of criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian and has left Native communities vulnerable to violent crimes committed by non-Indians in our territories.

When I first began learning about this case in earnest in law school years later, I was horrified. Why would the court rule that tribal nations lacked inherent authority to protect themselves? Over the years, many Indian law experts told me that it was unlikely that Congress would overturn the decision. Unfortunately, for many politicians, prejudice and ignorance have been the primary tools used to assess the legitimacy of tribal courts.


Five Reasons to Be Excited About Passage of the Violence Against Women Act

Activists unite in Farragut Square in Washington, D.C. for the One Billion Rising event (Photo Credit: Sarah K. Eddy)

(Photo Credit: Sarah K. Eddy)

We did it! The groundbreaking Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was just passed by the House of Representatives and will now be sent to President Obama for his signature!

It’s been a long road to victory. I wrote earlier this year about the indefensible demise of VAWA in the last Congress. The last Congress missed a momentous opportunity to stand up for the safety of all women. So women – and men – stood up for themselves; on February 14, 2013, Amnesty International joined the One Billion Rising movement to stand up, walk out, and dance to end violence against women globally. We called for Congress to quit the partisan politics and finally pass a Violence Against Women Act that included ALL communities.

Since then, we have seen the new Congress introduce and pass VAWA in the Senate and now the House has followed suit.


Not a Billion More

One Billion Rising

I was in Delhi on December 17 when tens of thousands marched in solidarity to support a young victim of rape.

On the evening of December 16, this young woman and her friend boarded a bus to return home after watching a movie. Her friend was attacked, while she was assaulted and raped by five men on the bus. Both were then left to die on the side of a busy street. Her injuries were so severe, that she succumbed to them a few weeks later.

Angered by her plight, thousands took to the streets to demand justice and accountability from a system that they think routinely ignores issues around women’s safety. Subsequently, the Indian government showed uncharacteristic speed in apprehending and trying the suspects. And now substantial efforts are under way to overhaul the country’s legal, social, and cultural response to violence against women.


10 Reasons to Move to the Music and End Violence Against Women

One Billion Rising
On February 14th, Amnesty will join with V-Day in the One Billion Rising campaign to dance in solidarity with the estimated one billion women and girls who have experienced violence in their lifetime.

Violence against women is one of the world’s most pervasive human rights abuses. It is also one of the most hidden. Globally, one woman in three has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in her lifetime and yet, justice for these abuses is all too rare.

In the U.S., the Violence Against Women Act is a groundbreaking law that helps break the cycle of impunity for violence.  Currently up for reauthorization in Congress, you can add your voice to ask for immediate action.


Dear Congress: Let’s Get Moving Together! Reauthorize VAWA Now!

VAWA rally in washington dc

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Monday in Washington, D.C. the National Mall was packed with hundreds of thousands of eager people who witnessed President Barack Obama sworn in for his second term.  During his speech, President Obama reminded us of our “vow to move forward together” on the challenges we face together as a country. Today, we say to Congress: time for you to move together to pass an inclusive Violence Against Women Act!

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have just announced that the two chambers are jointly reintroducing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a law that since 1994 has sent the message that violence against women is criminal and that has helped to ensure that the millions of women who experience domestic and sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking receive the protection and support they need.


7 Ways for Obama to REALLY Earn that Nobel Peace Prize

president obama

Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.

As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.


Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.


The Indefensible Demise of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

women protest violence against women

© STR/AFP/Getty Images

As the clock counted down the few remaining minutes of the 112th Congress, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) failed to reach the finish line in a politically and ideologically divided Congress. Since 1994, VAWA has ensured that millions of women who are experiencing domestic and sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking receive the protection and support that they need through legal and social services.  After 18 years of bipartisan support, Congress’s failure to reauthorize VAWA is an outrageous and indefensible roadblock to the goal of ending violence against women and fulfilling the right of all women to live lives free of intimidation and violence.

Inexcusably, House Republican leaders’ opposition to full inclusion of all at-risk communities eventually doomed the legislation.  Congress’s inability to act means that millions of women and men will be left without access to some of the critical resources and protections contained in VAWA reauthorization.


Congress’ New Year’s Resolution Should Be to Pass an Inclusive VAWA

VAWA rally in washington dcAs Congress gets ready to take its holiday break, time is running out to pass an inclusive Violence Against Women Act that protects ALL communities.

Talks between Congressional leadership in the House and the Senate continued over the weekend with no final agreement announced yet.  Republican leadership is still refusing to include crucial provisions to protect Native women from violence.  But with less than two weeks until the end of the year, Congress MUST act quickly to pass a just and fair VAWA that is inclusive of ALL communities, including Native American and Alaska Native women. Last week, Sarah Deer, an Assistant Professor at William Mitchell College of Law and a member of Amnesty International USA’s Native American and Alaska Native Maze Advisory Council, provided an update on what is at stake if  the Tribal provisions are left out of VAWA. Sarah appeared on MSNBC over the weekend to discuss the realities of violence against Native women and why it is so critical for the Tribal provisions to be part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Watch the short clip here and then take action by calling Majority Leader Cantor at 202.225.2815 and telling him to pass a VAWA that protects everyone, including Native women.

Native Women’s Rights Are in Danger: Tell Congress to Pass a Tribal-Inclusive VAWA that Provides Justice for All Women!

VAWA rally in washington dcThe following post is by Sarah Deer,  an Assistant Professor at William Mitchell College of Law and a member of Amnesty International USA’s Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council.

As citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, I am extremely concerned that with only three weeks left until the end of the year, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has yet to be reauthorized. There are three new critical protections in the Senate-passed version of the bill that seek to protect particularly vulnerable communities – LGBT people, immigrant women, and Native American and Alaska Native women in particular – but Native American women are in danger of being left out.

Unfortunately, as efforts to push VAWA to the finish line have resumed, some House Members are attempting to remove protections for Native women from VAWA. This is unacceptable: all women deserve equal rights and protection under the law.


3 Reasons It’s Critical to Reauthorize VAWA Now

VAWA rally in washington dc

Activists rally on Capitol Hill June 26, 2012 for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. (Getty Images)

Congress is running out of time to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), critical legislation that combines criminal justice, social services and community-based initiatives to prevent and respond to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual violence and stalking.

This spring we told you about the debate in the Senate to pass an inclusive bill that included critical new provisions to protect and support Native American and Alaskan Native women, immigrant women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

Although the Senate managed to pass an inclusive bill, one step forward has meant two steps back as Congress continues to stall on protecting women from violence.