President Obama Signs the Tribal Law and Order Act
Most Americans barely realize the levels of rape and domestic violence directed against Native American women. In some cases it is violence committed within the tribal community. But all too often it is rape committed by outsiders, a major problem that Amnesty International drew our attention to some years back. Too often the criminal justice system makes it impossible for rapists from outside the tribal community to be brought to justice. From Amnesty International:
"Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA"
A Summary of Amnesty International's Findings
Sexual violence against Indigenous women in the USA is widespread -- and especially brutal. According to US government statistics, Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the USA. Some Indigenous women interviewed by Amnesty International said they didn’t know anyone in their community who had not experienced sexual violence. Though rape is always an act of violence, there is evidence that Indigenous women are more like than other women to suffer additional violence at the hands of their attackers. According to the US Department of Justice, in at least 86 per cent of the reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, survivors report that the perpetrators are non-Native men...
Treaties, the US Constitution and federal law affirm a unique political and legal relationship between federally recognized tribal nations and the federal government. There are more than 550 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes in the USA. Federally recognized Indian tribes are sovereign under US law, with jurisdiction over their citizens and land and maintaining government to government relationships with each other and with the US federal government. The federal government has a legal responsibility to ensure protection of the rights and wellbeing of Native American and Alaska Native peoples. The federal government has a unique legal relationship to the tribal nations that includes a trust responsibility to assist tribal governments in safeguarding the lives of Indian women.
Tribal law enforcement agencies are chronically under-funded – federal and state governments provide significantly fewer resources for law enforcement on tribal land than are provided for comparable non-Native communities. The lack of appropriate training in all police forces -- federal, state and tribal -- also undermines survivors’ right to justice. Many officers don’t have the skills to ensure a full and accurate crime report. Survivors of sexual violence are not guaranteed access to adequate and timely sexual assault forensic examinations which is caused in part by the federal government’s severe under-funding of the Indian Health Service.
The Federal Government has also undermined the authority of tribal governments to respond to crimes committed on tribal land. Women who come forward to report sexual violence are caught in a jurisdictional maze that federal, state and tribal police often cannot quickly sort out. Three justice systems -- tribal, state and federal -- are potentially involved in responding to sexual violence against Indigenous women. Three main factors determine which of these justice systems has authority to prosecute such crimes:
- whether the victim is a member of a federally recognized tribe or not;
- whether the accused is a member of a federally recognized tribe or not; and
- whether the offence took place on tribal land or not.
The answers to these questions are often not self-evident and there can be significant delays while police, lawyers and courts establish who has jurisdiction over a particular crime. The result can be such confusion and uncertainty that no one intervenes and survivors of sexual violence are denied access to justice.
Tribal prosecutors cannot prosecute crimes committed by non-Native perpetrators. Tribal courts are also prohibited from passing custodial sentences that are in keeping with the seriousness of the crimes of rape or other forms of sexual violence. The maximum prison sentence tribal courts can impose for crimes, including rape, is one year. At the same time, the majority of rape cases on tribal lands that are referred to the federal courts are reportedly never brought to trial.
As a consequence Indigenous women are being denied justice. And the perpetrators are going unpunished.
You can read the full Amnesty International report here (PDF)
It was thanks to a 2007 Amnesty International report that the Daily Kos comomunity made a special effort to save one of the few functioning women's centers on tribal land, the Pretty Bird Woman's House. This shelter was vandalized and threatened, and almost lost its lease. The Daily Kos community and many other bloggers (see for example this article by me) helped buy the shelter a new home, much needed supplies and a security system to keep battered women safe. I have also tried calling attention to another Native American women's shelter, the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center. So the blogging community helped protect these women, but the rapists largely remained free because of the legal mess that protected them but not the women. No one did anything to change that...until President Obama.
This week President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act to try and simplify the legal system and bring rapists who come from outside tribal communities to rape Native American women to justice. Here is a (15 min) video of the signing of the law...it is well worth watching and it really shows that Obama is a caring, effective President:
Let me note that, believe it or not, 92 Republicans voted AGAINST protecting Native American women from rape. Yes...that's right, 92 Republicans favored the rapists over women. What ever happened to the Republican Party??? They have now become so despicable that they vote to protect rapists! I should note Republican leaders like Eric Cantor and John Boehner voted against protecting women. It also is note worthy that Republican Joe Pitts, who added an anti-abortion amendment to healthcare reform (then voted against it anyway) ALSO voted to protect the rapists. Can you get more disgusting??? Joe Pitts wants to make it easy for rapists to get away but impossible for a raped woman to have an abortion. To me THAT sums up the modern Republican party right there.