Why the United States Must Act Immediately to Stop the Violence

For over two decades, tribal advocates for Native women and tribal leaders have repeatedly raised that Congress must act to save the lives of Native women and stop the violence. Violence happens across all populations, but violence against American Indian women is different and the reasons why are not surprising. From the beginnings of the United States, the safety of Native women as citizens of Indian nations was vulnerable.

While their respective tribal nations based on teachings of respect held women as sacred, the law of the United States offered no protection. The culmination of this legacy is the current legal infrastructure by which the federal and many state governments continue to operate. Change is happening, but the toll in human life demands that Congress act in accordance to the human crisis confronting Native women and girls.

“We call upon Congress to act to address this crisis, to make the necessary changes, for Indian tribes to have the authority and resources to protect Native women.”—Elizabeth Carr, Senior Native Affairs Advisor, NIWRC

The federal government, specifically the Department of Justice, has documented this crisis and the need for changes being called for by tribal leaders. Three specific Congressional findings separate Native women from all other women in the United States and must be continually highlighted by the movement. Three injustices lived by American Indian and Alaska Native women include: higher rates of violence; violence committed more commonly by non-Native perpetrators; and as victims of violence they are less likely to receive the services needed. These three facts reflect the inequalities imposed upon and lived by Native women from birth to death.

“To change our reality, we must understand it. Not case by case, but over lifetimes and generations. The pattern of violence over hundreds of years is what screams to be recognized and calls for change.”—Lucy Simpson, Executive Director, NIWRC

These injustices are well documented by the federal government and reflected by the following data:

More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women (84.3 percent) have experienced violence in their lifetime.
More than half of AI/AN women (56.1 percent) have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
More than half of AI/AN women (55.5 percent) have experienced physical violence by intimate partners in their lifetime.
Almost half of AI/AN women (48.8 percent) have been stalked in their lifetime.[1]

In 2019, Congressional champions have responded to this crisis with the introduction of the following legislation to address barriers raised by Indian tribes to the safety of Indian women.

 

2019 Legislation Addressing Violence Against Native Women

Name & Numbers Summary of Bill
Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 (VAWA)

H.R. 1585

Passed on 4/4/2019

 

1.Reauthorizes 2013 provisions and expands prosecution of non-Indians to include obstruction of justice-type crimes, sexual assault crimes, sex trafficking and stalking; and creates pilot project for five Alaska Tribes and expands the definition of Indian Country to include ANCSA lands, townsites and communities that are 75% Native. 2.Expands definition of DV to include children who witness the crime. 3.Provides a specific finding for Alaska and jurisdictional challenges because of restrictive land settlement. 4. Expands Tribal Access Program (TAP) to tribes without law enforcement. 5.Expands enforcement of tribal protection orders and specifically in Alaska with land issues. 6. Addresses MMIW in urban areas by allowing states to fund tribal victim advocates in eligible areas.
Native Youth & Tribal Officer Protection Act

(NYTOPA)

S. 290 / H.R. 958

Reaffirms tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians in cases of child abuse and crimes that are committed against certain public safety and justice officials responding to domestic violence under SDVCJ of VAWA 2013.

Status: S. 290 referred to the Indian Affairs Committee. Sen. Udall (D-NM), Sen. Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Smith (D-MN).

H.R. 958 referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, and the Committees on Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, and Subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples of the United States. Rep. O’Halleran (D-AZ), Rep. Cole (R-OK), Rep Sewell (D-AL), Rep. Gallego (D-AZ), Rep. Haaland (D-NM), Rep. Kuster (D-NH). Included in VAWA H.R. 1585

Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act

S. 288

Reaffirms tribal criminal jurisdiction over some crimes committed by non-Indians including sexual assault, stalking, and trafficking.

Status: Referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs. Sen. Smith (D-MN), Sen. Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Udall (D-NM). Included in VAWA H.R. 1585

Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment Act (SURVIVE)

S. 211 / H.R. 1351

Directs that five percent of the total annual outlays from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) be provided to Indian tribes to provide crime victim services and expands types of services for which the funds can be used, including domestic violence shelters, child and elder abuse programs.

Status: S. 211 reported favorably without amendment by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Sen. Hoeven (R-ND) (with 14 bipartisan cosponsors). H.R. 1351 Rep. O’Halleran (D-AZ). Included in VAWA H.R. 1585

Savanna’s Act

S. 227 / H.R. XXXX

The bill increases coordination among all levels of law enforcement, increases data collection and information sharing, and empowers tribal governments with the resources they need in cases involving missing and murdered indigenous women and girls wherever they occur.

Status: S. 227 U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D- NV). H.R.xxxx Rep Deb Haaland (D-NM), Norma Torres (D-CA).

Not Invisible Act

S. 982 / H.R. 2438

Establishes an advisory committee of local, tribal and federal stakeholders to make recommendations to the DOI and DOJ on best practices to combat the epidemic of disappearances, homicide, violent crime and trafficking of American Indians and designates that an official within the BIA be charged with improving coordination of violence crime prevention across federal agencies.

Status: S. 982 Introduced 4/2 and referred to the SCIA. Sen. Cortez Masto (D-NV), Murkowski (R-AK), Tester (D-MT). H.R. 2438 introduced 5/1 and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, and in addition to the Committee on the Judiciary. Rep. Debra Haaland (D-NM) with 20 cosponsors.

Studying Crisis of Missing and Murder Indian People

S. 366 / H.R. 2029

Directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a full review of how federal agencies respond to reports of missing and murdered Native Americans, recommend solutions based on their findings, and provide other data research and recommendations to improve the response to such cases. Status: S. 366 and H.R. 2029 introduced 5/6. Included in VAWA H.R. 1585.

 

[1] Rosay, A.B., Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men: 2010 Findings from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. USDOJ (2016).