Native Women and the Violence Against Women Act*

Mar 22, 2012

Native American Legislative Update - March 2012

Following up on the Tribal Law and Order Act, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved the "Stand Against Violence and Empower Native Women Act" or "SAVE Native Women Act" (S. 1763) in December. It then submitted the bill as a recommendation to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has been working on reauthorizing and updating the "Violence Against Women Act" or "VAWA" (S. 1925.)

The Senate Judiciary Committee incorporated most of the provisions of the SAVE Native Women Act into Title 9 of the VAWA legislation, and added a few provisions to further strengthen the legislation. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 1925 in February. It is now ready for the full Senate to consider. VAWA has a bi-partisan list of 59 co-sponsors, but a handful of members are raising questions about the provisions that affect Native Women.

Specifically, the bill

  • Authorizes tribal police to arrest and detain a person suspected of domestic violence, even if the person is not native American, provided that person is related to the community or to the victim in some way,
  • Permits tribal courts to exercise full civil jurisdiction over domestic violence cases, so that they can issue and enforce protection orders and other controls, even if the person impacted by the order is not native American, and
  • For certain kinds of serious assaults against an Indian woman in Indian country, federal prosecutors would be allowed to seek sentences similar to those that would be applied by nearby state laws.

These provisions help to create a greater sense of safety for Native women living on reservations, sometimes far from police support or legal help. While the bill still allows tribes to handle these crimes in their own traditions - incorporating alternatives to prison, for example, if they wish - it acknowledges the seriousness of these violent crimes, and allows tribal police to enforce the law in their own communities, regardless of the perpetrator.

On March 7, Representatives Boren, Cole, McCollum, Inslee and Kildee introduced the House companion bill to the Stand Against Violence and Empower (SAVE) Native Women Act (H.R. 4154). The House bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee first, and then to the Natural Resources Committee.

*adapted from an article in FCNL's Indian Report, Spring 2012.

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