U.S. Representative Jay Inslee (WA-01), a vice-chair of the Native American Caucus, is a lead sponsor of H.R. 4154, the Stand Against Violence and Empower Native Women (SAVE Native Women) Act, which was introduced in the House yesterday. This bill, introduced by U.S. Representatives Dan Boren (OK-02) and Tom Cole (OK-4), would bring greater justice to Native women by enhancing Indian tribes' ability to respond to domestic violence and sexual assault crimes.
"Violence against women is wrong in any community," said Rep. Inslee. "Right now, there is a sense of lawlessness that often leaves Native women who have suffered from domestic violence with nowhere to turn, which is unacceptable in this day and age. This bill will clarify tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence and sexual assault so offenders can be brought to justice. This is the just thing to do and will help reduce future attacks on Native women."
According to Department of Justice statistics, American Indian and Alaska Native women are almost 3 times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault than any other group in the United States. Currently, in domestic violence and sexual assault cases in Indian country where the perpetrator is non-Indian, the federal government has exclusive authority to investigate and prosecute, even when the perpetrator may reside and work on tribal lands. That means that federal agents, often hundreds of miles away, are the only people able to respond to these crimes. Yet, despite this responsibility, statistics show that the vast majority of these cases go unprosecuted. A 2010 GAO Report found that U.S. Attorneys declined to prosecute 67% of sexual abuse and related matters that occurred in Indian country from 2005-2009. If the federal government declines to prosecute, then these abusers are left free to commit these heinous acts again in the future.
The SAVE Native Women Act would build on existing law to ensure that tribal governments have concurrent authority to address lower level crimes of dating violence, domestic violence, and violations of protection orders that occur on reservations. When initial beatings go unaddressed, the violence often escalates to the point of severe physical injury or even death. Giving tribes jurisdiction to prosecute these misdemeanor cases of violence against Native women will help stop the cycle of escalating violence that occurs when no action is taken by federal prosecutors. Native victims of domestic violence should have access to justice equal to that of their non-Native counterparts, and the SAVE Native Women Act would help ensure that they do.
In addition to enhancing tribes' ability to protect Native women from domestic and dating violence, the SAVE Native Women Act would also bring federal assault statutes into parity with state laws governing violence against women so that federal prosecutors have the tools to adequately punish perpetrators of crimes against Native women. It would also increase support for tribal domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions, and enhance data gathering programs to better understand and respond to sex trafficking of Native women.