Friday, May 11, 2012

Non-native men can rape, assault and abuse Native American women and they cannot be arrested

National Organization for Women (NOW) has been working from day one to reauthorize the real Violence Against Women Act, which would prevent non-Native American men from raping, assaulting, stalking and abusing Native American women and not getting arrested. 

You can help by contacting Representatives - not just yours.

VAWA tribal provisions are constitutionally sound
By Jefferson Keel, president, National Congress of American Indians - 05/10/12 03:22 PM ET

There is a group of criminals, on Native American lands, who assault, rape, and abuse Native women and they can't be arrested. These criminals are non-Native men. They don't have to face a judge, spend any time behind bars, or be hounded by a criminal record. Instead they remain free to go after the next victim or the same one, time after time. Congress, the one legal body able to fix this problem, could let these injustices continue if they don't act.
...Over the last few weeks, we have seen members of Congress from both sides of the aisle work to pass a law that would give tribes the authority over these criminals; the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The proposed tribal provisions of the law, passed with bipartisan support in the Senate, are now being left out of the main House of Representatives version of VAWA. Some members of the House fear they don't have the power to fix the problem or are afraid non-Natives will be subject to tribal law and not guaranteed their constitutional rights.

The reality is the tribal provisions of VAWA are fully constitutional and offer every safeguard provided by U.S. courts – more importantly they are vital to curtailing a very real problem.

In a recent letter to Congress, fifty leading U.S. law professors outlined their confidence in the constitutionality of the legislation. At the core of the letter, the lawyers highlighted the Supreme Court case law supporting Congressional authority and the requisite safe guards of the provisions offered to every defendant.

The Supreme Court in U.S. v. Lara, 541 U.S. 193 (2004), held that "Congress does possess the constitutional power to lift the restrictions on the tribes' criminal jurisdiction." Moreover, the VAWA provisions at issue are designed to catch a very narrow set of criminals, not just anyone. They are limited to only crimes of domestic violence or dating violence committed in Indian country, where the defendant is a spouse or established intimate partner of a tribal member.

Defendants prosecuted under these provisions would be entitled to the full array of constitutional protections; due-process rights, an indigent defendant's right to appointed counsel (at the expense of the tribe) that meets federal constitutional standards, and as the proposed law states, "all other rights whose protection is necessary under the Constitution of the United States." This includes the right to petition a federal court for habeas corpus to challenge any conviction and to stay detention prior to review, a right of which the prosecuting tribe must timely notify the defendant.

Finally, any non-Indian defendant prosecuted under these new provisions has the right to a trial by jury drawn from sources that do not systematically exclude any distinctive group in the community, including non-Indians.

These provisions offer tribal governments and the United States an opportunity to advance our cause together and root out this epidemic of violence. If Congress removes the restrictions placed on tribal governments, tribal law enforcement, and tribal courts, Native and non-Native communities alike will have the means to protect our women and remove criminals from our lands.

Tribal governments are members of the American family of governments, rooted in the constitution itself – we are America's first nations. We are ready to work together to end this violence. Yet, it is Congress that must take the first step to remove the restrictions placed on tribal governments.

When Congress does act, it is my hope that it will be to allow our governments and justice systems to stand together to keep every American, and Native American, safe, and demonstrate our commitment to our greatest shared value: justice for all.

Keel is the president of the National Congress of American Indians, the nation's largest and oldest American Indian and Alaska Native advocacy organization and is the Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, located in Oklahoma.


miridunn said...

Just WHO are these "groups of criminals" and why do they not fall under any jurisdiction to be tried for crimes? Sounds like hogwash . I have no problem with a tribal justice system ... But I need a source for this idea that a "group of criminals" is above the national law and fall outside any criminal code

Jerin said...

The criminals fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. Even if a victim is able to get to the federal authorities – which might be hundreds of miles away – there has been documentation of widespread racism against Native American women victims. Here is more information: and and

Alex Wilson, a researcher for the Native American group Indigenous Perspectives, found a high level of tension between law enforcement and Native American women, who report numerous encounters where the police treated the women as if they were not telling the truth.
"In a reservation community,” Wilson said, "911 would dispatch police to a scene of domestic violence, but police would call the victim by cell phone and decide himself when or if he should go to the victim’s home. Often the women would wait for an hour and other times the abuser would answer when the police called, and would say everything was fine, and there was no need for them to come. Native women . . . who called police for help were often re-victimized by the police."
"There are cultural barriers and a lack of understanding of culture in general," said sexual offense worker Bonnie Clairmont, of the current systems meant to support survivors of sex crimes. As reported by The Circle On-Line, July 1999, she says, "One of the crucial things many professionals do not understand, is that Native Americans have a legitimate reason to distrust 'the system.' After all, memories—both personal and cultural—of forced sterilization and other violent 'treatment' procedures are not so far in the distant past for many Native Americans."
The Report on Violence Against Alaska Native Women in Anchorage, conducted by community agencies in Anchorage, Alaska, found a widespread fear and distrust for law enforcement. Nearly all of the women interviewed felt the system had "turned its back on them" and insisted that their rights had been systematically violated. The report documents an instance involving an Anchorage police officer and a Native Alaskan woman who had been held hostage and dragged across the lawn by an intimate partner. The officer ignored her report and proceeded to tell the woman to undress so he could look for bruises. "I was afraid they might lift up my clothing or maybe that they all would rape me . . . ," the woman said. " I was just terrified." The police falsely claimed the woman was drunk at the time of the incident despite a hospital report that refuted this. The woman's attacker was never convicted.
Police and courts tend to ignore cases of violence involving Native American women due to alleged confusion between federal and tribal jurisdiction. Law enforcement and attorneys often are not schooled to deal with the cross-over in dealing between jurisdictions. Eileen Hudon, a sexual abuse counselor from the Minnesota Tndian Women's Resource Center, said there is a "basic ignorance in the whole justice system." This causes blatant violations of the rights of Native American women. Technically, cases involving a non-Native American perpetrator and Native American victim fall under federal jurisdiction. According to the Department of Justice, 70% or more of violence experienced by Native American women is committed by persons not of the same race. The problem of violence against Native American women is exacerbated by federal apathy in law enforcement and the courts, and minimal funding for shelters, counseling, and education in Native American communities.

Jerin said...

Also, here:

The report exposed the disproportionately high levels of rape and sexual violence that Native American and Alaska Native women suffer - 2.5 times higher than for non-native women in the United States.

The complex maze of tribal, state and federal jurisdictions often allows perpetrators, 86 percent of them non-Native men, to rape with impunity.