WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) introduced a bill Thursday to bolster efforts to address the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis with bipartisan support from Paul Cook (R-Calif.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Sharice Davids (D-Kan.).
The Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act, H.R. 3977, restores inherent tribal criminal jurisdiction to prosecute domestic violence-related crimes committed against American Indian and Alaskan Native women by non-tribal members within Indian Country to protect victims and deter future violent crimes on reservations.
“Every woman deserves to feel safe in her community, but Native women in Indian Country are experiencing violence at alarming rates. Today, we’re taking a stand for Native American survivors of sexual violence in Indian Country, so that tribes have the authority to bring justice for survivors and prevent future violence,” said Haaland, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.
“This much-needed bipartisan bill protects victims of violent crimes on reservations, particularly women and young girls. Too many dangerous predators are slipping through the cracks when they should be punished and brought to justice. I’m pleased to cosponsor this critical legislation and thank Representative Haaland for her leadership on this issue,” Cook said.
“Too often, Indigenous communities are unable to pursue justice when their members experience violence, including sexual violence, at the hands of non-Native perpetrators. This bill would help remedy this harmful reality by expanding tribal governments’ jurisdiction in cases of domestic and sexual violence in Indian Country. I am proud to support this effort to ensure survivors and their communities can get the justice they deserve,” said Gallego, chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States.
“It is only right that tribal governments have the authority to bring justice to non-tribal members who commit acts of sexual violence against tribal members on their own tribal lands,” said Cole, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. “Just as states have the power to prosecute citizens from other states for crimes committed within their borders, so too should sovereign tribal nations. Considering the tragically insufficient status quo, it is simply commonsense to ensure tribes have the ability to fully protect their members from sexual predators.”
“Native women and girls experience violence at far higher rates than any other female population in the country – a crisis that has devastated our communities and has been neglected for too long. I’m proud to help introduce the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act, which will restore tribal governments inherent authority to seek justice for native women and help prevent future violent crimes on reservations,” said Congresswoman Davids.
The leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native Women between ages 10 and 24 is homicide, and American Indian and Alaska Native women experience murder rates 10 times the national average. A 2016 National Institute of Justice report states that more than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaskan Native women (84.3 percent) have experienced some form of violence in their lives.
Despite these alarming statistics, offenders often go unprosecuted and unpunished. Although the 2013 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization allowed Tribes to assert criminal jurisdiction special domestic violence crimes committed by non-Indians, tribal governments still lack authority to prosecute related crimes. Currently, Native American victims must rely on federal courts to prosecute these related crimes through Offices of the U.S. Attorney. According to GAO reports, federal prosecutors decline 67 percent of Indian Country cases of sexual abuse and related offenses.
Specifically, the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act:
Allows tribal prosecution of sexual assault, sex trafficking, and stalking against non-Tribal member offenders; and
Ensures all perpetrators who commit these additional crimes can be prosecuted in tribal courts
Full text of the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act is available here.
Support for the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act
“Survivors of sexual violence in Indian Country deserve justice. Tribes should have jurisdiction to prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence, and this legislation will begin to address loopholes in federal Indian law by restoring tribal jurisdiction to fully prosecute serious crimes of sexual violence committed against Native women. NIWRC applauds Representative Haaland for her recognition of the urgent need to expand Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction.” – National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
“Too often victims of violence in Indian Country never see justice. Our tribal citizens deserve better,” said Kevin Allis, Chief Executive Officer of the National Congress of American Indians. “This legislation will help ensure that tribal governments, just like state and local governments, are able to prosecute offenders who commit sexual violence and other crimes on our lands. This is not a partisan issue and we appreciate the bipartisan support for this important bill.” – National Congress of American Indians
“The All Pueblo Council of Governors has supported the Violence Against Women Act which reaffirms tribal authority to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction. We are appreciative of the introduction of the Justice for Native Survivors Act which addresses a critical gap in VAWA, effectively enabling tribes to prosecute non-native perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual abuse, dating violence, and sex trafficking. In recognition that tribes are disproportionately impacted by instances of special domestic violence on tribal lands, we support expedient passage of this legislation to empower us with the tools we need to address cases and keep our community members and their families safe.” – Chairman E. Paul Torres, All Pueblo Council of Governors
“As a result of the shameful policies of the United States and despite the limited restoration of Tribal criminal jurisdiction, our people continue to experience some of the highest rates of sexual violence. USET SPF supports the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act as an opportunity for this Congress to fix a dangerous oversight in the Violence Against Women Act through the affirmation of inherent Tribal sovereignty and authority.” – United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund
“The Tulalip Tribes strongly supports this important piece of bipartisan legislation to help improve the public safety of our tribal communities and tribal members. We urge swift passage of this legislation and its Senate companion bill S. 288.” – Tulalip Tribes