Sen. Smith’s Bipartisan Bill to Help Tribes Pursue Justice for Crimes of Sexual Violence Signed Into Law

WASHINGTON [03/24/22]—U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.)—a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee—announced that her bipartisan legislation, which will restore Tribal criminal jurisdiction over crimes of sexual violence committed by non-Native offenders on Tribal lands, was signed into law.

According to the National Institute of Justice, over half of all Native American women—56 percent—and more than one in four Native men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes. And among those, almost all—96 percent of women and 89 percent of men—were victimized by a non-Native offender. Yet, few survivors ever see justice.

The Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act aims to help survivors of sexual violence by allowing Tribes to prosecute cases of sexual violence, domestic and dating violence, sex trafficking, stalking, and obstruction of justice related to these crimes committed by non-Native perpetrators.

“For a long time we’ve known that an alarming number of Native people endure sexual violence, and we have the research to show the staggering rate of sexual violence committed by non-Native perpetrators in Indian Country. The federal government has failed Native survivors when it comes to prosecuting offenders,” said Sen. Smith. “I am proud of our efforts to pass this bipartisan legislation and support survivors seeking the justice they deserve.”

The bill was included in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization, which passed the Senate this month. Federal or state investigations into sexual violence on Tribal lands rarely results in prosecution. According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, between 2005 and 2009, federal prosecutors declined to pursue 67 percent of sexual abuse and related offenses in Indian Country.

The legislation builds on the special Tribal criminal jurisdiction established in the 2013 VAWA reauthorization, which allowed Tribes to opt into the special jurisdiction to prosecute domestic and dating violence crimes committed by non-Native offenders on Tribal lands.  Senator Smith’s bill added additional crimes to the special jurisdiction and eliminated a requirement that non-Native perpetrators must have “sufficient ties” to the survivor to be prosecuted under the special jurisdiction.

This legislation is supported by the National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Women’s Resource Center, Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, and Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

You can read a summary of the bill here and access text of the bill here.