Sarah Deer: Stopping violence against women through tribal law

"While we wait for Congress to do the right thing and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, there are important things that tribal leaders can do right now to protect Native women.

I’m talking about improving tribal statutes and dedicating more resources to tribal justice systems. Now is the time for tribal governments across the United States to enact tribal laws which are superior to those that currently exist. While there are vital changes to federal law that must be implemented to correct over a century of jurisdictional confusion, we must not forget that tribal police and prosecutors need strong statutory laws in order to take action on behalf of their tribal nations. In the meantime, tribal governments must be ready to take action on our own terms when women are assaulted. We don’t need to wait until the VAWA reauthorization is signed into law to protect Native women—we can start now.

During the last century, various criminal code have been written and signed into law by tribal legislatures—some much better than others. Statutes are sometimes out of date. In addition, some of the earliest tribal criminal codes were taken from “boilerplate” codes which were drafted by non-Indians. Over the past several years, I have reviewed over 100 tribal sexual assault laws. What I have found is that many tribal codes have weaknesses—and most of the time, these weaknesses are inconsistent with tribal traditional laws which served to protect women and children. When we updates those tribal codes to be consistent with tribal traditions, we will be ready to take advantage of the new provisions in VAWA."

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Sarah Deer: Violence Against Women and Tribal Law (Indian Country Today 7/16)

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