Programs of Tulsa’s Domestic Violence Intervention Services won’t immediately be affected by the House’s failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
DVIS Associate Director Donna Mathews is optimistic about the new Congress taking up the reauthorization.
“It would be a bad political move,” she said, “for somebody in any party to oppose reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in some form.”
Oklahoma’s Representatives did not get a chance to vote on the bill—a version passed by the Senate—since it did not come for a vote before the House adjourned. A House delegation with some new Representatives will have that task in the new Congress.
Both Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn voted against Senate Bill 1925, the latest version of VAWA.
How different another version of VAWA will look from the failed version remains uncertain.
The failed version included expanded legal opportunities for domestic violence victims in undocumented immigrant communities, as well as on tribal lands.
“Let’s say a Native American is a domestic violence victim on tribal lands,” Mathews explained. “If the perpetrator is not a Native American, the tribe can’t prosecute him. The prosecution would come through the U.S. Attorney’s office. It’s a federal offense.”
“They were trying to expand that jurisdiction of the tribal courts,” she said, “to include someone who comes onto tribal lands and harms a tribal member.”
She says this was one of the “main sticking points” that caused opposition in the House.
As for undocumented immigrants, Mathews says the new version would have allowed “expanded opportunities…for undocumented victims of domestic violence to apply for visas based on their victimization, and their willingness to cooperate with law enforcement, with prosecutors, in prosecuting the perpetrator of their domestic violence.”
Mathews and DVIS hope those and other provisions would remain.
Currently, older provisions of the law remain in effect. Those include exempting domestic violence victims from the “one strike rule” for public housing, and prohibiting law enforcement from requiring polygraph tests of sexual assault victims.
Another major arm of VAWA is providing grant funding for the programming that organizations like DVIS provide. Mathews says grant money DVIS has already received won’t go away.
For now, she says, they have enough to operate normally, until the new Congress can reauthorize VAWA. She expects that to happen in the next few months.