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Tribal Leaders Call for Expanded Jurisdiction Over Non-Native Domestic Violence Offenders

Recognizing that the Department of Justice’s 2014 decision to grant special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction under VAWA was a “historic” step toward upholding tribal sovereignty, advocates and tribal leaders say that the law should be expanded upon to grant greater protections to tribal citizens at risk of assaults by non-Natives, and that Nations should receive adequate resources to implement the law.

The special provisions were introduced in 2014 when the justice department announced that the existing jurisdictional scheme, which prior to VAWA 2013 had effectively banned tribal governments from prosecuting non-Natives on tribal lands, was failing to “adequately protect the public—particularly native women—with too many crimes going unprosecuted and unpunished amidst escalating violence in Indian Country.”

Native women experience a disproportionately high rate of domestic violence, with some sources suggesting they face assault rates that are 50 percent higher than other demographics. By various estimates, between 23 and 39 percent of Native women identify as victims or survivors of domestic violence and intimate partner abuse. The vast majority of domestic and sexual abuse cases involve a non-Native perpetrator, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

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