Violence Against Women Act amended to support Native Hawaiians

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Dec. 29—President Joe Biden signed an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act on Wednesday, allowing Native Hawaiians access to resources from organizations supported under the act.

President Joe Biden signed an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act on Wednesday, allowing Native Hawaiians access to resources from organizations supported under the act.

The reauthorization of VAWA, which was first passed in 1994, was signed into law in March 2022, providing funding to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, sex-trafficking, dating violence and stalking. The act also offers "Services, Training, Officers Prosecutors " (STOP ) grants to Native-serving organizations to help them combat sexual violence and support survivors.

However, due to a drafting error in the law, while Native Hawaiian organizations were able to apply for STOP grant funding, they could not use the funds to actually serve the Native Hawaiian community. As a result, Native Hawaiian women have been unable to access critical resources included in VAWA.

Hawaii's U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who introduced the amendment, said in a news release : "Like other Native communities across the country, Native Hawaiians experience disproportionately high levels of sexual and gender-based violence." She added, "Despite this crisis, Native Hawaiian women have long been unjustly excluded from accessing much-needed resources for survivors provided through the Violence Against Women Act. This bill addresses this injustice and allows Native Hawaiian Organizations to better serve Native Hawaiians."

The bill for the amendment passed in the House on Dec. 14, the same day that a task force created by Hawaii's Legislature last year released its report, which analyzes data regarding sex trafficking, sexual exploitation and domestic violence that disproportionately affect Native Hawaiian women and girls.

The 22-page report found that the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girl documented in Canada and the mainland United States is also present in Hawaii.

While Native Hawaiian women and girls represent only 10.2 % of the total population of Hawaii, more than a quarter of missing girls here are Native Hawaiian, according to the report. Also, the average profile of a missing child is a 15-year-old Native Hawaiian girl, missing on Oahu. Additionally, the report found that a majority of sex trafficking cases involved Native Hawaiian girls trafficked in Waikiki.

According to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, more than two-thirds of sex trafficking victims in Hawaii are Native Hawaiian women and girls, and 37 % of reported child sex trafficking cases in Hawaii involve Native Hawaiians.

Administered through OHA and the state Commission on the Status of Women, the Missing and Murdered Native Hawaiian Women and Girls task force comprises individuals representing over 22 governmental and nongovernmental organizations across Hawaii that provide services related to violence against Native Hawaiians.

According to an Associated Press report, several states have formed similar task force panels following a report by the Urban Indian Health Institute that found out of 5, 700 cases of missing and slain Indigenous girls in dozens of U.S. cities in 2016, only 116 were logged in a Justice Department database.

The Holoi a nalo Wahine 'Oiwi report pointed to data collection as one of the biggest obstacles in moving forward with reform-minded efforts as public and private agencies don't always collect statistics on race. And some data group together Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, making it difficult to identify the degree to which Hawaii's Indigenous people are affected. About 20 % of the state's population is Native Hawaiian.

Hirono noted in the news release that in August, at a Judiciary Committee hearing, she called for the FBI to do more to protect the Native Hawaiian community from sexual exploitation and emphasized the need for the FBI to include the Native Hawaiian community in its efforts to address the missing and murdered Indigenous people crisis and violence against Native communities. In May, Hirono joined a resolution designating May 5 as National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

As a result of the VAWA amendment, Hirono said in the release, "Now, Native Hawaiian organizations will have access to support and resources to serve the Native Hawaiian community and work towards eradicating sexual violence in our state."------Linsey Dower covers ethnic and cultural affairs and is a corps member of Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.------