Earlier this week, President Joe Biden signed an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act, rectifying a law which unintentionally excluded Native Hawaiian survivors of gender-based violence and Native Hawaiian organizations from the VAWA grant funding.

VAWA was originally signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Since then, the bill has been expanded and renewed several times, providing funding to survivors of all types of sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual assault, sex-trafficking, stalking, and both dating and domestic violence.

Before U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono spearheaded the bill, the criteria for organizations to apply for VAWA funding specifically said that they must serve “tribal communities.” This meant that previously, the organizations that applied for funding must serve American Indian or Alaska Native communities, according to George Flynn, a spokesperson for Hirono.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono has been a vocal advocate for the Native Hawaiian community and efforts to combat violence against Native Hawaiians. Nick Grube/Civil Beat

In fiscal year 2021 , the DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women recognized 18 tribal coalitions from several states, including Alaska, Arizona and Minnesota. But because federal law doesn’t recognize Native Hawaiians with the same tribal designation as other native communities, Native Hawaiian-serving organizations were unable to access the VAWA funding, Flynn said. Hirono’s legislation now clarifies that organizations that serve Native Hawaiians are eligible.

“Like other native communities across the country, Native Hawaiians experience disproportionately high levels of sexual and gender-based violence,” Hirono said in a press release. “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.”

The Hawaii Democrat added that she was glad the president has signed the bill into law, and that now, Native Hawaiian organizations will have access to resources to support the Native Hawaiian community and work towards eradicating sexual violence in her home state.

VAWA also includes Services, Training, Officers and Prosecutors grants to provide funding for eligible native-serving nonprofits, which the Domestic Violence Action Center, a nonprofit based in Hawaii, has been able to receive for several years, though they are not considered a Native Hawaiian organization.

Domestic Violence Action Center CEO Nanci Kreidman speaks to our ed board.
Nanci Kreidman said VAWA funding will help support DVAC in providing legal representation and advocacy services for survivors, as well as expert consultation on partner abuse and training for judges. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Nanci Kreidman, the DVAC chief executive officer, said the nonprofit has submitted multiple applications for other grant categories and has not been successful. She hopes the amendment will allow them to access more resources.

“The single largest racial category of clients at DVAC are Native Hawaiians,” Kreidman said.

During fiscal year 2022, 43 out of 199 DVAC clients were Native Hawaiian. Other leading categories of clients were 16% Filipina and 12% Japanese.

Kreidman said the Native Hawaiian DVAC client dominance has been reoccurring for the last five years. In 2018, there were a total of 50 Native Hawaiian clients out of 245 total cases. The highest number of Native Hawaiian DVAC clients was in 2020 — 55 out of a total of 237 survivors.

“We are acutely aware of the importance of supporting survivors who are Native Hawaiian,” Kreidman said.

She added that she hopes the amendment to the law will shine light on missing and murdered Indigenous women, sex-trafficking victims who are disproportionately Native Hawaiians, and disburse funds for a range of community programs.

“I think we’re going to have to see how it reaches the ground,” Kreidman said.

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 are Native Hawaiian.

Recently, the state Commission on the Status of Women released the Holoi a Nano Wahine Oiwi report, which stated that Hawaii has the eighth highest rate of missing persons per capita in the nation, at 7.5 missing people per 100,000 residents, and the average profile of a missing child is a 15-year-old Native Hawaiian female from Oahu.

The report said that data is limited though, and “the statistics presented in this report must be interpreted with the understanding that the true scope of the problem of missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women and girls is much larger than the meager data available can demonstrate at this time.”

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