Today President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act into law. This landmark bill is a tribute to the years of hard work by Native women all across the country urging Congress to address violent crime and sexual assault on Indian lands. The law creates a new standard of more equitable law enforcement on Indian reservations that will discourage criminal activity, elevate public safety, and greatly improve the daily lives of Indian people and their neighbors. The Act will enhance the criminal justice system by improving and measuring the federal law enforcement response and will enhance coordination and communication between federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies.
NOW is especially proud that this legislation addresses the disturbing rates of sexual violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women. The original Violence Against Women Act did not adequately cover Indian Country justice; this law remedies much of that omission. According to Amnesty International, the disproportionately high levels of rape and sexual violence that Native American and Alaska Native women suffer in this country is 2.5 times higher than for non-native women in the United States.
The complex maze of tribal, state and federal jurisdictions has often allowed perpetrators, 86 percent of them non-Native men, to rape with impunity. In addition to the jurisdictional morass, the lack of trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) at Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities to provide forensic exams and gather essential evidence is a factor that leads to a failure to prosecute. The AI report raised concerns about the lack of prosecutions and the need for accurate information about prosecution rates. In an effort to address this, the law will increase sexual assault training and standardized protocols for handling sex crimes, interviewing witnesses and handling evidence of domestic and sexual violence crimes.
NOW President Terry O’Neill praises the president, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) for their leadership and determination to get this long overdue legislation passed into law. NOW is only disappointed that this bill creates no new authorization nor targets for spending, but it is an important step toward addressing sexual and domestic violence in Indian Country. NOW vows to work to see that the programs and initiatives in this legislation are fully-funded as Congress works on its priorities for appropriations.