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Originally published January 4, 2013 at 4:55 PM | Page modified January 4, 2013 at 4:55 PM

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Editorial: Congress must use its power to protect women from rape, abuse

Congress failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act before it adjourned last session. They must take action now. Vulnerable victims deserve protection and the ability to bring their abusers to justice.

Seattle Times Editorial

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CONGRESS’ failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act is among the appalling signs of how gridlock and dysfunction has possessed our elected officials.

A measure that earned widespread, bipartisan support for nearly two decades — and helped hundreds of thousands of women and children escape physical and sexual abuse along the way — is now expired.

Lawmakers must right this wrong in the 113th Congress, which started Thursday.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chamber’s point person on this issue, is right to express dismay over the House Republican leadership’s intransigence. Even in a toxic political environment of their own making, senators managed to reauthorize the act last year, 68-31, with support from both sides of the aisle.

For most of 2012, House Republicans balked at the Senate’s attempt to expand protections for Native Americans, illegal immigrants and victims within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Some have since shifted their support in favor of the latter two groups.

The sticking point remains tribal jurisdiction — whether to allow tribal courts to seek due process when an individual who is not Native American commits domestic and sexual crimes against Native Americans on their land.

Women in this relatively isolated population must face dismal statistics: a one-in-three chance of getting raped in their lifetimes. They are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted compared with the national average. Thirty-nine percent of Native American women suffer domestic abuse.

Such atrocities have occurred within Washington state’s 29 federally recognized tribes. A culture of silence persists. Justice eludes the victims. Prosecution is rare.

Victims’ advocates believe most perpetrators are non-Native American men.

They are “immune from the law, and they know it,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, the bill’s Democratic sponsor from Vermont, said last month in a last-minute plea for the House to consider the bill — to no avail.

Now that U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., is the fourth-highest ranking GOP member in the House, she has the power to forge a deal.

The Spokane congresswoman says she supports reauthorization of the act and will “review” any legislation that comes from the Senate.

The issue needs no further study. A legislative framework is in place.

McMorris Rodgers and Murray are on common ground.

They must work together to help end the horrific cycle of violence.

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