Yesterday, U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, released the following statement in observance of domestic violence awareness month.
“Domestic violence is an evil that permeates every community in our great Nation. Abuse knows no bounds and transcends people of all ethnicities, socio-economic status and gender,” he said. “As legislators, it is our duty to do what we can to prevent abuse and bring perpetrators to justice.
“But, tragically, in Native American communities bringing justice is often difficult because tribal prosecutors do not have jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indian offenders. As a result, rapists and abusers often go free and can repeat their crimes. It is our duty to put an end to this.
“Half of all American Indian women have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, according to a recent nationwide survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. American Indian women are two and a half times more likely to be assaulted, and more than twice as likely to be stalked, as other women in this country. On some reservations, the murder rate for Native women is 10 times the national average. 88 percent of these types of crimes are committed by non-Indians over which tribal governments lack any criminal jurisdiction under U.S. law.
“One year ago today, I introduced the Stand Against Violence and Empower (SAVE) Native Women Act to strengthen tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence and sexual assault so that all abusers—Native and non-Native—can be brought to justice.
“I worked closely with Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to include my SAVE Native Women Act provisions in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011. These provisions empower tribal courts to prosecute crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, or violations of protection orders—regardless of the race of the alleged abuser—and strengthen research and programs to address sex trafficking.
“The original Violence Against Women Act was enacted in 1994 and it has since been reauthorized twice with large bipartisan majorities. Since its enactment, the law has enhanced the investigation and prosecution of incidents of domestic and sexual violence and provided critical services to victims and their advocates in court. It has expanded protections to classes of once neglected victims. It has been a lifeline for women across the country.
“This year, however, a number of my colleagues are opposing the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act because they object to the authority that it restores to Native American tribes to prosecute those who commit violent crimes against Native women.
“The Congressional session is nearly over and the window for passage is closing. In the absence of Congressional action, tribal organizations are drawing international attention to what many feel is a human rights crisis.
“Domestic Violence Awareness Month is a time to reflect on the tremendous achievements made since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act 18 years ago, while reminding ourselves that there is still much to be done to ensure that our children and grandchildren grow up in an America free of domestic violence. As I said last year, this is not an issue that should divide us along partisan lines; it should unite us to take a stand against these awful crimes. We must join together to protect our sisters, mothers, and daughters and pass this bill.”