U.S. Senator Tina Smith Helps Lead Bipartisan Efforts to Address Violence Against Native Communities
Senator Joins Colleagues in Introducing Bills to Address Violence Against Women, Children, and Tribal Law Enforcement
WASHINGTON, D.C. [1/31/19]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) continued pressing for action to address violence against Native communities when she—along with Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)—introduced two major, bipartisan bills to address violence against Native women, children, and tribal law enforcement: the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act and the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act.
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 restored the ability of tribes to arrest and prosecute non-Indian offenders for acts of domestic violence committed on tribal lands, but it did not restore tribal authority to arrest or prosecute crimes of sexual violence, threatened domestic violence, violence against children, or violence committed against law enforcement personnel enforcing special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction.
Senator Smith is the leader of the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act—a bill to address sexual violence on Indian reservations by restoring tribal authority to prosecute cases of sexual assault, sex trafficking, and stalking.
The Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act would make sure tribes are able to prosecute attempted and threatened domestic violence and extends the VAWA 2013 protections to children and law enforcement personnel on tribal lands.
“An alarming number of Native people endure violence in their lifetimes—including women, children, and police officers. We know that these crimes are often committed by non-Native people in Indian Country,” said Sen. Smith. “Yet, tribes are unable to take action against these offenders and the federal government is failing to investigate and prosecute these crimes. We need to make sure tribes are able to seek and get justice for their members, and for survivors. We are taking an important step toward that goal by introducing these bipartisan bills—and we should pass them into law.”
“Over the last six years, a number of Tribes have successfully exercised special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction restored by the 2013 VAWA reauthorization to make their communities safer. But gaps in the law have left Native children, Native sexual assault survivors, and the Tribal police who are enforcing this restored jurisdiction unprotected,” said Udall. “Justice in Indian Country should not be so limited. Together, the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act and the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act will ensure that Native communities have the tools they need to keep families safe. I am proud to join with Senator Smith and Senator Murkowski to push forward this important Tribal public safety legislation.”
“Under current law, survivors of sexual assault living in Indian Country are often unable to pursue adequate justice for crimes committed against them by someone outside their tribe. The Justice for Native Survivors Act will support and empower victims by ensuring that tribes across the country have jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of sexual violence. We must do more to guarantee that justice for victims in Indian Country is not undermined by loopholes in Indian law,” said Murkowski. “I’m also proud to support the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act, which will expand the parameters of the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction that’s currently in place-- helping create safer, more just communities for everyone.”
The bills are supported by the National Congress of American Indians.
“Too often victims of violence in Indian Country never see justice. Our tribal citizens deserve better,” said Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians. “These important bills will help ensure that tribal governments, just like state and local governments, are able to prosecute offenders who prey on their citizens or commit crimes against their law enforcement officers.”
The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, and the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition voiced strong support for the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act.
“On behalf of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, we are in full support of the Justice for Native Survivors Act and its recognition of the Tribe’s sovereignty by recognizing the Tribe’s ability to prosecute ALL individuals who commit the crimes of stalking, sexual assault, and sex trafficking against their citizens,” said Patina Park, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center.
“Native women, girls, and two-spirit individuals are disproportionately impacted by violence perpetrated by people outside of their communities,” said Katie Kramer, Public Policy Director at the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. “In 2015, 23% of women killed in Minnesota due to intimate partner violence were Native and the majority of these victims were killed by non-Native men. We are grateful for the leadership of Native women and the support of Minnesota Senator Tina Smith as they lead the way towards justice by ensuring all perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes.”
“Native women suffer some of the highest rates of violence victimization in the country, by primarily non-Native perpetrators. It is crucial for the safety of our people that Tribes are allowed to exercise their inherent sovereignty by holding all perpetrators accountable who commits acts of sexual violence, stalking, and sex trafficking against our relatives. We are grateful to Senator Smith for her leadership on this issue, and we look forward to working with her on this issue,” said Nicole Matthews with the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition.