Hirono bill amending the Violence Against Women Act

Since its inception in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has provided billions of dollars in funding for law enforcement, housing authorities, victims’ rights advocates, counseling services, and other resources serving the needs of those surviving domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex have human trafficking and other crimes against women.


what you need to know

  • The US Senate voted unanimously to amend VAWA to allow survivors of gender-based violence in Hawaii to access programs and resources provided under the Act
  • While VAWA had not been approved for the past four years because of partisan disagreements over proposed gun control regulations, funding for most programs has continued. The law was eventually reauthorized as part of a $1.5 billion omnibus package. Joe Biden signed in March
  • Indigenous women experience disproportionate levels of sexual violence
  • Hirono has been campaigning for a solution since she first learned of the de facto ban in 2016

However, that support was not directly available to women of Hawaiian descent — a decades-old oversight that may soon be rectified.

On Friday, the US Senate unanimously voted to amend VAWA to specify that native Hawaiian survivors of gender-based violence also have access to programs and resources provided under the law.

“For decades, Congress has funded organizations that support survivors of gender-based violence through the Violence Against Women Act,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who led the VAWA amending action. “This funding is critical to supporting all women, including local women, who are experiencing disproportionate levels of sexual violence. However, native Hawaiian women have been barred from accessing these much-needed resources.

“This law will allow Hawaiian indigenous survivors to receive the support they deserve and will allow Hawaiian indigenous organizations to do even more to fight sexual violence,” Hirono said.

While VAWA had not been approved for the past four years because of partisan disagreements over proposed gun control regulations, funding for most programs has continued. The law was eventually reauthorized as part of a $1.5 billion omnibus package. Joe Biden signed in March.

As Hirono noted, indigenous women experience disproportionate levels of sexual violence. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has estimated that more than two-thirds of sex trafficking victims in Hawaii are Native Hawaiian women and girls.

And while VAWA provides services, training, officers, prosecutors, and grants to eligible nonprofit organizations that serve Native peoples, language and drafting issues in the original bill effectively prevented Hawaiian Native organizations from using STOP funds to serve communities of to serve the native peoples of Hawaii. Hirono legislation addresses these problems.

Hirono has been campaigning for a solution since she first learned of the de facto ban in 2016. More recently, a coalition of native Hawaiian groups wrote a letter to the senator asking for her help in introducing corrective legislation.

Last week, Hirono entered the Senate to push for passage of the measure.

“By passing this simple technical fix, we can ensure that native Hawaiian women have access to the benefits and support contained in this critical violence against women law,” Hirono told her peers.

The measure now goes to Biden for final approval.

Michael Tsai reports on local and state politics for Spectrum News Hawaii.

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