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Udall: Tribal Victims of Domestic Violence Deserve Justice

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) today called for the swift passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) with provisions to address the crisis of domestic violence in tribal communities. In a speech on the Senate floor, Udall praised VAWA’s past effectiveness and outlined the benefits of new provisions that give tribal courts broader jurisdiction to prosecute domestic violence against tribal members.

According to the National Congress of American Indians, an estimated 3 in 5 Native women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. Native women are 2 1/2 times more likely than other U.S. women to be raped, and 1 in 3 will be sexually assaulted.

“Those numbers are tragic. Those numbers tell a story of great human suffering of women in desperate situations, desperate for support. And too often we have failed to provide that support,” said Udall.

Under existing law, tribes have no authority to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence against their Native American spouses or partners within the boundaries of tribal lands. This jurisdiction lies with federal prosecutors who have limited resources and are often located hours away. Yet more than 50 percent of Native women are married to non-Indians, and non-Indians make up 76 percent of the overall population living on tribal lands. As a result, many of these crimes go unpunished, creating a cycle of violence.

“On some tribal lands, the homicide rate for Native women is up to 10 times the national average,” said Udall. “But this starts with small crimes; small acts of violence that may not rise to the attention of a federal prosecutor.”

The provisions in VAWA would give tribal courts the ability to prosecute non-Indians who commit a crime of domestic violence in Indian County, as well as promote other efforts to protect Native women from an epidemic of domestic violence. These include an increase in grants for tribal programs to address and research violence against Native women and tougher sentencing for perpetrators who strangle or suffocate their spouses or partners.

“All of these provisions are about justice. Right now, Native women don’t get the justice they deserve. But these are strong women. They, rightly, demand to be heard,” said Udall.

VAWA is supported by over 700 national, state and local organizations, including victim service providers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and survivors themselves.