WASHINGTON – Today the Department of Justice proposed legislation that would significantly improve the safety of women in American Indian tribal communities and allow federal and tribal law-enforcement agencies to hold more perpetrators of domestic violence accountable for their crimes.
“The Obama Administration has placed a high priority on combating violence against women in tribal communities,” said Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli. “We believe that enacting these targeted reforms would significantly improve the safety of women in tribal communities and allow federal and tribal law-enforcement agencies to hold more perpetrators of domestic violence accountable for their crimes.”
The proposed legislation identifies three legal gaps that can be addressed through congressional action:
Recognizing certain tribes’ power to exercise concurrent criminal jurisdiction over domestic-violence cases, regardless of whether the defendant is Indian or non-Indian.
Clarifying that tribal courts have full civil jurisdiction to issue and enforce protection orders involving any persons, Indian or non-Indian — confirming the intent of Congress in enacting the Violence Against Women Act of 2000.
Providing more robust federal sentences for certain acts of domestic violence in Indian Country: a 10-year offense for assaulting a spouse, intimate partner or dating partner by strangling, suffocating or attempting to strangle or suffocate; a five-year offense for assaulting a spouse, intimate partner or dating partner, resulting in substantial bodily injury; and a one-year offense for assaulting a person by striking, beating or wounding.
Violence against American Indian women occurs at epidemic rates. Research reveals that one-third of Native women will be raped during their lifetimes, and nearly 3 out of 5 have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners.
The introduction of legislation marks another step in the Justice Department’s ongoing initiative to increase engagement, coordination and action on public safety in tribal communities. This effort is driven largely by input gathered from the department’s 2009 Tribal Nations Listening Session, the department’s annual tribal consultations on violence against women, and 2011 tribal consultations specifically addressing potential new legislation to improve safety for Native women.