Udall, Smith, Murkowski Introduce Major Bipartisan Legislation to Address Violence Against Native Women, Children and Tribal Law Enforcement

Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced two major, bipartisan bills to address violence against Native women, children, and Tribal law enforcement: the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (NYTOPA) and the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act (Justice for Native Survivors).

Both bills build on the Tribal jurisdiction provisions in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013). NYTOPA reaffirms Tribal authority to prosecute attempted and threatened domestic violence and extends the VAWA 2013 protections to children and law enforcement personnel on Tribal lands. Justice for Native Survivors addresses sexual violence on Indian reservations by restoring Tribal authority to prosecute cases of sexual assault, sex trafficking, and stalking.

VAWA 2013 restored the authority of Tribes to arrest and prosecute non-Indian offenders for acts of domestic violence committed within Tribal jurisdictional boundaries. At least 18 Tribes currently exercise the special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction restored by the law, leading to over 140 arrests.

But VAWA 2013 did not restore Tribal authority to arrest or prosecute offenders for crimes of sexual violence, threatened domestic violence, violence against children, or violence committed against law enforcement personnel enforcing special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction. NYTOPA and Justice for Native Survivors address these gaps to help protect Native families and Tribal justice officials from violent offenders.

“Over the last six years, a number of Tribes have successfully exercised special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction restored by the 2013 VAWA reauthorization to make their communities safer. But gaps in the law have left Native children, Native sexual assault survivors, and the Tribal police who are enforcing this restored jurisdiction unprotected,” said Udall.  “Justice in Indian Country should not be so limited. Together, the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act and the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act will ensure that Native communities have the tools they need to keep families safe. I am proud to join with Senator Smith and Senator Murkowski to push forward this important Tribal public safety legislation.”

“An alarming number of Native people endure violence in their lifetimes—including women, children, and police officers. We know that these crimes are often committed by non-Native people in Indian Country,” said Smith. “Yet, tribes are unable to take action against these offenders and the federal government is failing to investigate and prosecute these crimes. We need to make sure tribes are able to seek and get justice for their members, and for survivors. We are taking an important step toward that goal by introducing these bipartisan bills—and we should pass them into law.”

“Under current law, survivors of sexual assault living in Indian Country are often unable to pursue adequate justice for crimes committed against them by someone outside their tribe. The Justice for Native Survivors Act will support and empower victims by ensuring that tribes across the country have jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of sexual violence. We must do more to guarantee that justice for victims in Indian Country is not undermined by loopholes in Indian law,” said Murkowski. “I’m also proud to support the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act, which will expand the parameters of the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction that’s currently in place-- helping create safer, more just communities for everyone.”

The bills are supported by the National Congress of American Indians.

“Too often victims of violence in Indian Country never see justice. Our tribal citizens deserve better,” said Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians. “These important bills will help ensure that tribal governments, just like state and local governments, are able to prosecute offenders who prey on their citizens or commit crimes against their law enforcement officers.”

The full text of NYTOPA is available [link to bill text].

The full text of Justice for Native Survivors is available [link to bill text].