Indian Country Today
The Biden-Harris presidential campaign held a national event Monday evening comprised of female supporters who rallied behind reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark piece of legislation that aims to protect women from domestic and other kinds of violence.
The act, first written by then-Senator Joe Biden, was enacted 26 years ago on Sunday.
Former second lady Jill Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave brief remarks at the nearly one-hour event held on Facebook Live, where more than 127,000 viewers tuned in.
The event was headlined by a panel called, “VAWA at 26: Women Unite in Progress,” which included North Dakota state Rep. Ruth Buffalo, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.
Panelists explored the many communities who experience sexual assault and violence, including Indigenous and Black women, college students, and women in the military. They collectively called for VAWA to be reauthorized under a Biden-Harris administration.
Last year the Democratic House voted to renew the domestic violence law, but it was not passed by the Republican Senate.
The newest addition of VAWA includes an amendment which closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by barring those convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a current or former dating partner from buying or owning a firearm.
The National Rifle Association has said language aimed at “former dating partners” was overly vague and could result in the law being applied too broadly.
“What I’m most hopeful for under a Biden-Harris administration is that the reauthorization of VAWA will not be a partisan issue,” Buffalo said at the event. “The fact that it hasn’t been passed by now is deeply troubling.”
Former Second Lady Jill Biden shared the story her husband Joe Biden, who penned the Violence Against Women Act 26 years ago, saying he met with survivors and grassroots organizers “to demand change.”
Many panelists cited a need for VAWA protections, including funding for specific communities and many provisions that would protect Indigenous women.
Buffalo stressed a need for long-term solutions to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
She shared the story of Savanna LaFontaine Greywind, a Dakota woman eight-months pregnant who went missing and was found brutally murdered in August 2017.
“The epidemic of violence that affects our tribal communities is huge. It's terrible, terrifying and traumatic,” Buffalo said.
Greywind is the inspiration behind “Savanna’s Act,” a bill addressing MMIW, which has been passed by the Senate and is awaiting votes in the House.
“Women will decide this election,” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her remarks given at the end event.
Other panelists, including Melissa Bryant, a former U.S. Army captain and veterans’ advocate, said the “tragic case” of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old soldier stationed at Fort Hood, whose body was found dismembered “should not happen again.”
Guillen had been missing for several months after vanishing at the end of June.
Bryant said that violence against women has been happening in the military for many years.
“This has been going pretty much since the integration of women into the military. And fun fact, women have been in the military since the Revolutionary War.”
“Harassment, at a bare minimum, is a daily part of our lives as women in uniform. As an officer in uniform, I was cat-called, I was harassed, I had comments about my physique, things my father and grandfather never had to deal with,” Bryant said. “But we serve our country honorably, as well, and we deserve the same protections under the law that our male counterparts get.”
Other panelists included Tracey Vitchers, a nationally recognized expert on youth sexual violence prevent and Karma Cottman, Executive Director of the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The discussion was moderated by Symone Sanders, a senior advisor to the Biden-Harris campaign.
Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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