U.S. Sen. Patty Murray challenged her Republican counterparts Tuesday to embrace the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act, saying the narrower House version leaves out key provisions that would help protect another 30 million women from domestic violence.
Murray, a Democrat from Western Washington, hosted several victims of abusive relationships at the NATIVE Project in West Central Spokane.
“The Republicans stripped several protections for women,” Murray said, including updated language that closes loopholes for Native American women abused by non-Native men, adding visas for illegal immigrants to prevent their deportation until their perpetrators can be prosecuted, and language that removes ambiguity about whether the law covers victims of abuse in same-sex relationships.
“I just hope everyone understands the importance of covering these 30 million women,” Murray said. “The House bill does not do it. It essentially says: You 30 million women don’t count when it comes to domestic violence.”
The congressional standoff over the measure is part of a broader political rift between Democrats, who control the Senate and want to expand the federal protections, and Republicans, who control the House and favor reauthorizing the existing protections.
Bringing the Senate push to Spokane had political significance as well: This is the district of Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a congressional leader and primary backer of the House version of the reauthorization efforts. McMorris Rodgers did not attend the event.
Murray helped pass the federal Violence Against Women Act in 1994. It has twice been re-authorized and currently is facing another renewal. As part of that process, the Senate version expanded the protections to give prosecutors legal authority to go after some abusers who can fall through legal cracks.
The version approved by the House would continue the law as written. But Murray said changes are needed to expand protections, saying that statistics show that one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes.
“Too often, the perpetrators are never prosecuted and are allowed to continue the abuse,” she said. “Unfortunately, the House … stripped those protections out.”
Toni Lodge, who hosted the discussion at the NATIVE Project, said the No. 1 cause of death for Native American women between ages 18 and 34 is domestic violence.
Lodge introduced several abused woman, including one identified only by her first name, Sonia, who relayed the story of how her husband broke her arms and legs and caused severe head trauma. She now uses a walker to get around.
Another woman, Carol, explained her abusive relationship with another woman. She eventually called a local domestic violence hotline, and her call was not returned.
“I just assumed they didn’t help people like me,” Carol said. “Our relationship not being recognized by federal law is absolutely ridiculous.”
Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick Van Leuven said 73 percent of the homicides in Spokane County over the past 3 1/2 years and three of four homicides last year were related to domestic violence.
He relayed a story of a domestic violence call he investigated early in his 32-year law enforcement career.
“The victim was a Native American woman. She was so badly beaten, her eyes were swollen shut,” Van Leuven said. “It took me quite a while to gain her trust … that I was there to help her.”
Murray has been a leading spokeswoman for the Senate version of updated law and was among the first to accuse Republicans of waging a “war on women” through their social policies.
McMorris Rodgers could not be reached Tuesday for comment but has repeatedly disputed the Democratic charges. She has said that the Democrats’ claims of the so-called war on women are a hoax that her counterparts are trying to push to divert attention from more important issues like the economy.