United States: Current Laws Not Sufficient in Protecting Native Women From Violence
Thursday, July 28, 2011 11:45 AM


The White House and its partners are working with tribes across the country to develop strategies to better protect Native women from violence, Thomas Perrelli, associate attorney general with the United States Department of Justice, announced on Thursday.  Stressing the need for immediate action, Perrelli went on to declare that domestic violence has reached “epidemic” rates in many Indian communities.

According to the Indian Law Resource Center, one in three women is raped in her lifetime and one in six will be domestically abused by a husband, boyfriend or intimate partner.  In addition, several studies indicate that the average annual rate of rape and sexual assault among American Indians is 3.5 times higher than for other races, and according to the National Violence Against Women Survey, nearly 65 percent of American Indian women reported experiencing rape or physical violence. 


The Tribal Law and Order Act, passed one year ago, made great strides in strengthening tribal law enforcement, including increasing sentencing to up to three years.  While this was an important step for Native women, the Act failed to grant tribal governments the authority to put non-Indians behind bars, even when the offender lives on the reservation, is part of the community or is married to a tribal person.  Due to the fact that 50 percent of Native women have non-Native husbands, according to Kimberly Teehee, White House senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs, the Act does not sufficiently protect Native women.


Legislation currently before Congress will target some of the limitations in the law to protect Native women, including recognizing tribes’ power to hold on-reservation perpetrators regardless of the whether the offender is Indian or non-Indian.  The legislation also aims to increase the sentencing limits for severe acts of violence such as spousal intimidation, strangling or suffocating.


Katy Jackson, a staff attorney at the National Congress of American Indians, says that “the Department of Justice’s proposals to restore tribal authority to hold on-reservation perpetrators- both Indian and non-Indian- accountable for these heinous crimes are by far the most critical piece of the puzzle at this point in time.”


While acknowledging the importance of judicial changes, many advocates and services providers stress that changes in law alone will not be sufficient to address the problem.  Instead, focus should remain on broader measures that could reach whole communities, including prevention programs and education while maintaining a view of the problem from a socio-political context, including colonization and economic factors.   



Compiled from: Laws “Not Enough to Tackle Violence Against Native Women, Inter Press Service News Agency, (July 27, 2011).