Justice for Women in Indian Country

By Jonathan Adams Aug 11, 2008

Jordin Isip Native women are disproportionately victims of rape and other acts of violence, and now N. Bruce Duthu, a professor of Native American studies at Dartmouth, says in an NYT op-ed that tribal courts need to be given full authority to give these women justice. Previously, we reported that Congress attempted to provide women with more resources.

The House of Representatives Wednesday approved a bipartisan measure that would provide one million dollars for the creation of a tribal sex offender and protection order registry to identify serial perpetrators of such assaults, most of whom are non-Indian. The same measure, which was approved by a 412-18 vote, provides an additional million dollars to conduct a baseline study on sexual violence committed against indigenous women in the U.S. to better identify the extent of abuse and how best to address it. Both appropriations have already been approved by the Senate.

Most crimes against Indian women are perpetrated by non-indigenous men, who are rarely caught or charged with the crime. In Colorlines, Andrea Smith talked about the isolation many of these women can feel as they seek justice in their communities,

A young Native woman was once gang raped by prominent members of an urban Indian community I lived in. When she sought justice, the community instead blamed her–she was dividing the community by airing its "dirty laundry." At the same time, she had difficulty getting help from the mainstream anti-violence movement. In fact, the year before I began working in sexual assault services in that city, only one Native woman had received services at a rape crisis center. The primary reason Native women gave for not going outside the community for help was that it was like appealing to a "foreign government" for assistance.

More than throwing money at this community, Duthu says that tribal courts need the agency to bring justice to the violent offenders raping and assaulting these women in Indian Country.

Congress recently allocated $750 million for enhancing public safety in Indian country. This money will help tribes hire and train more police, build detention facilities and augment federal investigative and prosecutorial capacity for Indian country crimes. Ideally, the grant process will be efficient enough to make sure that this money reaches the places most in need. But financial aid will not be enough to stop sexual violence against Indian women. Tribal courts have grown in sophistication over the past 30 years, and they take seriously the work of administering justice. Congress must support their efforts by closing the legal gaps that allow violent criminals to roam Indian country unchecked.

Violence against women of color is perpetually pushed aside, but justice for these women should not be overlooked.