Violence Against Women Act issue 'close' to CramerThe prevention of violence against women is near and dear to Rep. Kevin Cramer’s heart. His 5-year-old son’s biological mother was murdered by her husband, and his son was the only witness.
By: Katherine Grandstrand, The Dickinson Press
The prevention of violence against women is near and dear to Rep. Kevin Cramer’s heart. His 5-year-old son’s biological mother was murdered by her husband, and his son was the only witness.
“This issue is very close and very personal to my family and to me and to my 5-year-old son,” he said. “It’s not one I take lightly, but I also know that we’ve got to be very careful to not trample civil liberties. Or worse yet, to put the victims of violent crimes in jeopardy by passing a law that cannot stand up to constitutional scrutiny.”
An added provision in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that is intended to give tribal police authority over non-members could make the whole law unconstitutional, Cramer worries.
“I have some concern in reference to inherent sovereignty for the tribes and I want to check more thoroughly into the constitutionality of that,” he said. “What I’d hate to do is pass reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act only to find out that it’s successfully challenged in court — its constitutionality is successfully challenged — and then have the thing thrown out.”
He feels the expressed authority that has always been granted to the reservations is sufficient, Cramer said.
“The risk we run is that it can be used in any type of criminal proceeding if it’s used in one,” he said. “It can be precedent setting.”
The other two-thirds of North Dakota’s congressional delegation, Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, and John Hoeven, a Republican, voted in the Senate to approve the reauthorization of the law. Heitkamp, who was a co-sponsor of the reauthorization, has been touring the eastern half of the state this week with roundtable discussions about the act.
“There’s actually a couple of bills in the House titled ‘Violence Against Women Act,’ or at least a couple versions, and they’re quite similar to the Senate one,” Cramer said. “I’ve read the one version in the House, I’ve read the Senate version.”
The ability to arrest non-members living on the reservation for crimes against women is critical, said Janelle Moos, executive director of the North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services.
“If you look at some of our reservations … the rates of violence are pretty high,” she said, “If you look at Fort Berthold and the influx of ‘man camps’ on the reservations it really leaves the tribes with limited and/or no jurisdiction over those folks that are committing violent crimes against women.”
Cramer agrees, but also worries about giving more authority to tribal police.
“The reservations are where they’re having a good number of the problems and now we’re suggesting in the same legislation that we give more authority — inherent sovereignty — to the very place that’s not dealing with it very well already,” he said. “I agree — we’ve got to do something on the reservations, but I’d also say the tribes themselves have got to do something on the reservations.”
Granting tribes inherent sovereignty does not address the illegality of abusing women, Cramer said.
“No question, I want to work with the tribes and the network to make sure that it’s funded, to make sure that there are safe places for abused women,” he said.
The issue of abuse on the reservations is more law enforcement and less law, Cramer said. Increasing resources to have more cops on the streets, having enough prosecutors and focusing on education to change the culture will be more effective than changing the law.
“There are some issues related to resources that we can utilize to help protect women,” he said. “I’m fully on board and a full advocate of providing those resources.”
Most of the funding for programs related to NDCAWS comes from federal sources, Moos said.
Cramer said he is for keeping and expanding the services available through VAWA.
“I want to get a Violence Against Women Act bill in front of the House that I can vote for that does provide the very important funding for the shelters and the various protections for women that are victims of domestic abuse,” he said. “I think it’s proven to be successful in that those federal funding sources keep these shelters going and provide a safe haven to women.”