The Senate still refuses to take up the House-passed Violence Against Women Act.
But that hasn’t stopped a bipartisan group led by Arizona Rep. Tom O’Halleran from trying to do something about sky-high rates of domestic violence in reservation communities.
The House has twice reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, most recently on a 244 to 172 vote. The act provides funding for domestic violence shelters and funds a host of other initiatives.
However, Senate Republicans have refused to take up the measure because it would also bar gun ownership by people convicted of misdemeanors for domestic abuse or stalking. The bill would also close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” to including dating partners on the list of people affected by existing gun prohibitions. Currently, a felony conviction bars people from owning guns.
In 2007, domestic violence caused 2,340 deaths — 15% of all homicides in the U.S. Studies show that half of all domestic violence murders are committed with guns and a woman is five times as likely to be murdered if her abuser has access to a gun.
Republicans also objected to a provision in the Act that would enable transgender women to seek refuge in federally funded domestic violence shelters and serve time in prisons that match their gender identities.
O’Halleran voted for the extension of the act first passed 13 years ago twice in the House. He represents Congressional District 1, which covers most of northern Arizona including Flagstaff, southern Gila County, the White Mountains and the Hopi, Navajo, San Carlos Apache and White Mountain Apache reservations. Rep. Paul Gosar, who represents most of western Arizona and all of Rim Country, voted against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Gosar meanwhile co-sponsored HR 2890, which lowers the age at which a person can legally buy a gun to 18.
However, with the Violence Against Woman Act now stalled, O’Halleran joined with a bipartisan group to introduce two bills targeting domestic violence, especially on reservation communities.
More than 55% of American Indian women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner — compared to about 25% of women nationally. Non-Indians commit most of those assaults. Current law gives tribes the ability to convict non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence, dating violence and violations of orders of protection. However, tribal law enforcement and courts have little ability to protect children of survivors of domestic violence or law enforcement officers.
The Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act extends protection to those two groups in domestic violence incidents on tribal lands.
“As a former police officer, I saw firsthand the devastating impacts of domestic violence on survivors and children and the danger faced by law enforcement officers when responding to these incidents,” said O’Halleran.
Domestic violence calls remain the single most dangerous calls for officers nationwide.
O’Halleran also joined with Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) to introduce the SURVIVE Act, which provides legal, medical and counseling services to women and children in tribal communities after incidents of domestic violence. The bill would require at least 5% of the national Crime Victims Fund to go to reservation communities, which would produce a roughly fivefold increase in funding for services on the reservation. Native Americans constitute less than 2% of the U.S. population, but more than 5% of the Arizona population.
Congress has continued to fund most domestic violence programs, including support for domestic violence shelters, despite the failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Senate Democrats and Republicans continue to negotiate terms of the reauthorization, with Republicans threatening to filibuster to prevent passage of the bill so long as it includes the provisions affecting the gun rights of those convicted of domestic violence and stalking.
Republicans have criticized the addition of those provisions as “unnecessarily partisan” and suggested they would quickly reauthorize the legislation if Democrats agreed to remove those items.
Arizona ranks fifth nationally in its rate of domestic violence. Oklahoma has the highest rate, with 49% of women and 41% of men experiencing domestic violence in their lifetimes, including physical violence, rape and stalking. In Arizona, 43% of women and 33% of men experience domestic violence. That included 96 murders in 2019, according to federal statistics compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic violence.
Domestic violence costs an estimated $37 billion annually, including law enforcement, legal work, medical and mental health treatment and lost productivity.
As many as 324,000 pregnant women suffer domestic violence each year, and a half of all homeless women and children are fleeing violent relationships. Domestic violence continues for weeks or months before up to 80% of murders by intimate partners.
Domestic violence also spawns trauma from one generation to the next. Studies suggest that growing up in a violent household doubles the chance that a boy will become an abuser as an adult.
A 2019 study found that the number of women murdered by an intimate partner in the U.S. increased to four per day, part of an ongoing rise since 2014 compounded by the impact of things like stay-at-home orders and the financial stress of the pandemic. Domestic violence remains the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 — more than rapes, muggings and car accidents combined.
Some states have experimented with so-called Red Flag laws to reduce the death toll of domestic violence. This allows police to confiscate guns in the possession of people considered a danger to themselves or others pending a full court hearing.