Senate Version of Violence Against Women Act Includes Important Reforms for American Indian Women, Opinion Piece Argues (U.S.)

Posted on August 1, 2012

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August 1, 2012 — The Senate version (S 1925) of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act “includes legal reforms that are an important first step toward helping American Indian victims of sexual and family violence,” but the House version (HR 4970) lacks those reforms, writes Sherry Hamby — a research associate professor in psychology at Sewanee and editor of the journal Psychology of Violence — in a Christian Science Monitor opinion piece.

Specifically, the Senate version “will start to close [a] legal loophole by giving tribal courts the power to prosecute non-Indians who perpetrate domestic or dating violence and who violate protection orders on tribal land through concurrent joint jurisdiction with federal courts,” Hamby writes.

She cites data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that show that 86% of perpetrators of sexual offenses against American Indian women are non-Indian, which “differs sharply from patterns for other US ethnic groups.” She explains that because of “the different legal standards in force on reservation land,” tribal police are unable to “arrest or even detain a non-Indian perpetrator of any crime,” including those who live on a reservation and are married to an American Indian woman.

Currently, the only way non-Indians can be prosecuted for domestic or sexual violence on a reservation is through the federal court system, but “U.S. attorneys offices are not set up to handle local crime and simply do not have the manpower to manage all of the cases,” according to Hamby.

Hamby also calls for better access to emergency medical care and increasing respect for women’s rights and safety. The Senate version of the VAWA reauthorization is “a first step in that direction,” she writes, concluding that the House should join the Senate in adapting the provisions (Hamby, Christian Science Monitor, 7/30).

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