WASHINGTON, D.C.-The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a reauthorization of VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, sending the bill to the President for signature. The reauthorization doubles funding to the Northern Mariana Islands for the Sexual Assault Services Program, tracking legislation introduced by Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) in the last Congress.
“The problem of domestic violence is all too common in the Northern Mariana Islands, so any extra funding we can obtain to help victims is most welcome,” said Sablan. “It took almost two years to get this passed, but improving the assistance we can give to people who are attacked in this way makes it well worth the effort.”
The Sexual Assault Services Program grant can be used for 24-hour hotline services and for linguistically and culturally specific outreach activities. The funds are also used to provide a companion or advocate for victims of violence, as they face the medical and legal aftermath of being sexually assaulted.
Sablan introduced legislation, H.R. 4195, in the 112th Congress, upping the program's formula funding to the Northern Mariana Islands and the other U.S. territories. In the 113th Congress he was able to get a provision increasing funding for territories into H.R. 11, the Democratic bill reauthorizing VAWA, and into its Senate companion, S. 47.
A reauthorization of VAWA passed the Senate in 2012 with bipartisan support, but the Republican-controlled House failed to act on the measure. On the House floor Friday, the Republican leadership first offered a weaker substitute to the Senate bill but could not get enough of their own party members to vote in favor of the measure. In a second vote 87 Republicans joined with 199 House Democrats to pass the bipartisan Senate bill.
“[Fri]day's vote for reauthorization of VAWA sends a strong message that we are standing up against the physical injury and the psychological harm that comes from the domestic and sexual violence in communities across our nation,” Sablan said.
“In addition to extending a hand to the victims, approval of the Act for another five years also honors the work of the families and friends of victims and of the police and prosecutors, counselors and advocates, who assist them.
“In the Northern Marianas, I want to say thank you to Karidat, Guma Esperansa, the Family Violence Task Force, Nurturing Transformative and Sustainable Communities, the Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Ayuda Network, the Office of the Attorney General, the Family Court, the Criminal Justice Planning Agency, and the Department of Public Safety for responding to the scourge of domestic violence and sexual assault. All of these agencies and the people who work in them have done so much to help victims and their families.”
Programs reauthorized in VAWA Friday include STOP and Transitional Housing Assistance grants, as well as the Sexual Assault Services Program, providing victims with legal assistance, shelter, and supervised visitation services and addressing the unique barriers faced by victims in rural areas, the elderly, and those with disabilities.
The reauthorization will put more rape kits in the hands of law enforcement and underwrite a national registry of forensic evidence from sexual assault cases, strengthen criminal anti-trafficking statutes, and address domestic violence on college campuses.
S. 47 also amends the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, which extended federal management of immigration to the Northern Marianas. Women who petition for status as victims of human trafficking or violence will be allowed to count the time lived in the Northern Marianas prior to the CNRA going into effect as time present in the United States. This will allow these women to more quickly adjust to a permanent immigration status.