Bills to Curb Violence Against Indian Women, Families Subject of Hearing
On November 10, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing on several bills, including the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act (S. 1192) and the Stand Against Violence and Empower (SAVE) Native Women Act (S. 1763).
Sponsored by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act would establish a demonstration program at the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice that will give a limited number of Indian tribes the legal jurisdiction and enforcement capabilities to reduce domestic violence against Native women and children, among other provisions.
The SAVE Native Women Act, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), would amend the Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (P.L. 90-351) to include sex trafficking among the crimes for which the federal government may provide grants to Indian tribal governments and organizations for the purposes of reducing or eliminating violence against Indian women.
The provision of services to youth who are victims of, or have been exposed to, domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking would be added to the list of eligible uses of grants under S. 1763. The bill also would include “the development of legislation and policies that enhance best practices for responding to violent crimes against Indian women” as one of the eligible uses.
Tribal coalition grants also would be established in order to increase awareness of violence against Indian women; improve responses to such violence at the state, federal, and local levels; identify and provide technical assistance to improve access to services for women who have been victimized; and develop and promote best practices for responding to such violence.
Tribes and tribal organizations also would be granted jurisdiction over domestic violence crimes and violations of protective orders.
“For a host of reasons, the current legal structure for prosecuting domestic violence in Indian country is inadequate to prevent or stop this pattern of escalating violence,” said Thomas Perrelli, associate attorney general at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
He added, “Until recently, no matter how violent the offense, tribal courts could only sentence Indian offenders to one year in prison. Under the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 [P.L. 111-211], landmark legislation enacted last year in no small part due to the efforts of this committee, tribal courts can now sentence Indian offenders for up to three years per offense, provided defendants are given certain procedural protections, including legal counsel. But 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. Tribal police officers who respond to a domestic violence call, only to discover that the accused is non-Indian and therefore outside the tribe’s criminal jurisdiction, often mistakenly believe they cannot even make an arrest.”
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