29 July 2010

Tribal Women Score Major Win on Capitol Hill

Nationwide, Native American and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual violence and rape than non-native women. Yet, historically, the path to bringing their attackers to justice has been so complicated that the majority of perpetrators avoid punishment. Now, all of that is about to change.

On July 20, the House of Representatives followed their colleagues in the Senate in passing H.R. 725, the Tribal Law and Order Act, "a long overdue effort to address public safety issues in Indian Country," according to Amnesty International. The law seeks to "enhance the criminal justice system by improving coordination and communication between federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies," while also empowering "tribal governments to take more direct action in cases of violent crime." The goal is to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence can no longer slip through the cracks in a system that previously left the line determining jurisdiction (federal? tribal?) over these cases dangerously blurry.

In addition to the law's attempt to reestablish tribal authority, it also provides for an increase and standardization of the collection of data in sexual assault cases. As Charon Asetoyer, Executive Director of the Native American Community Board (a Ms. Foundation grantee), noted:
Currently there are no standardized sexual assault protocols within Indian Health Service, meaning that victims of sexually violent crimes may not be given rape kits that obtain critical evidence to prosecute perpetrators. The Tribal Law and Order Act will remedy this, and underscore the importance of the need for medical staff that collect forensic evidence to testify in a court of law. It is a critical step toward ensuring that Native women’s human rights are recognized.
Now all that awaits is the President's signature. We're thrilled to congratulate Charon -- a 1991 Gloria Award winner -- and NACB on their successful efforts to ensure the safety of Native women across America. This is a win well worth cheering about!

[Update (3:00pm EDT): The President is scheduled to sign the bill into law at 4:50 this afternoon. Second Update The President's remarks at the signing.]

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