Native American Women and VAWA
“When you have a system that cannot hold people accountable, what is the message? The message to perpetrtors is ‘I can get away with it,’ and the message to survivors is ‘no one will do anything to help me.’ And … I think that this perfect storm of legal problems explains why Native people suffer from such high rates of violence.” -Professor Sarah Deer (Muscogee (Creek) Nation)
Native women face murder rates at more than 10 times the national average, and the overwhelming majority – 96 percent- are assaulted by non-Native perpetrators. Underlying causes of the violence include human trafficking, domestic violence, violent crime, systemic racism, economic disparities and substance use and addiction.
One significant factor is the oil industry. Communities in Indian Country have reported increased rates of human trafficking and missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIWs) in areas surrounding pipelines. Workers coming into these often rural and remote communities set up “man camps” in areas that have inadequate resources to oversee the new populations.
For example, in 2015, violent crime reports increased in Bakken oil-producing region of Montana and North Dakota, according to the Immigration and Human Rights Law Review. One report shows that sexual assaults on women on the Fort Berthold reservation increased by a staggering 75 percent. Most of the oil workers are non-Native which means they could not be prosecuted by the tribe due to complex jurisdictional issues.
NOW strongly supported provisions in the 2022 VAWA reauthorization that reaffirm inherent tribal authority to prosecute certain non-Indian perpetrators of sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, child violence, and obstruction of justice.
NOW is also encouraged by the Biden administration’s new Missing & Murdered Unit (MMU) and enforcement provisions of the Not Invisible Act. Current Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna), the first Native American to lead the agency, led the introduction of the bill when she served in the House of Representatives. The MMU will be inclusive of tribal leaders, human trafficking survivors, and victims’ relatives.