November 11, 2011

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Examines the Save Native Women Act

Washington D.C. –
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, chaired by Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), held a legislative hearing today on S.1763, the Stand Against Violence and Empower Native Women (SAVE Native Women) Act.
According to a report by the Department of Justice, two-in-five women in Native communities will suffer domestic violence and one-in-three Native women will be raped in their lifetime. Four out of five perpetrators of these crimes are non-Indian, and cannot be prosecuted by tribal governments. The SAVE Native Women Act would provide Indian Country with jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes on Indian lands.
“Currently tribes have no ability to prosecute non-Natives for domestic violence and sexual assault in their own communities,” said Chairman Akaka. “This has resulted in a sense of lawlessness and leaves Native women with few places to turn. All offenders—Native and non-Native—should be brought to justice.”
“Tribal courts have no authority at all to prosecute a non-Indian, even if he lives on the reservation and is married to a tribal member,” said Tom Perrelli, the Associate Attorney General for the Department of Justice. “Not surprisingly, abusers who are not arrested are more likely to repeat, and escalate, their attacks. Research shows that law enforcement’s failure to arrest and prosecute abusers both emboldens attackers and deters victims from reporting future incidents. The jurisdictional framework has left many serious acts of domestic violence and dating violence unprosecuted and unpunished.”
“This legislation, by providing tribes with jurisdiction over domestic violence committed by all offenders removes a huge barrier which currently prevents tribes from effectively protecting women in their communities,” said Thomas B. Heffelfinger, Best & Flanagan LLP Partner and Indian Law Specialist.
The bill also strengthens existing programs under the Violence Against Women Act that support Native victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“In many communities, these programs offer the only safety and support available for our Native women, and yet these programs are greatly strained,” said Chairman Akaka. “My bill provides programs with more flexibility and tools to address their most critical needs.”
Suzanne Koepplinger, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center said, “Investing in the safety of women and children is an investment in the wellbeing of our families and communities. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the fiscally responsible thing to do to provide preventive and healing services to those in need. The trauma of unreported or untreated sexual violence leads to higher end user social services, multi-generational abuse, increased rates of homelessness, and other costs.”
The bill would also improve data gathering programs to better understand and respond to sex trafficking of Native women.
“Many communities are just now beginning to understand and respond to sex trafficking, and more training, awareness, and capacity building is required. This bill will provide many of those needed steps forward, and I urge you to pass this legislation that will greatly improve the safety and security of American Indian women and girls, and give Tribes the authority to effectively protect, intervene and prosecute perpetrators of gender based violence,” said Koepplinger.
“We believe that enacting the SAVE Act will strengthen tribal jurisdiction over crimes of domestic violence, tribal protection orders, and Federal assault prosecutions. These measures, taken together, have the potential to significantly improve the safety of women in tribal communities and allow federal and tribal law-enforcement agencies to hold more perpetrators of domestic violence accountable for their crimes,” said Perrelli.
Contact: Emily Deimel
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