Sen. Tester: Safeguarding Indian women from domestic violence

On Montana’s reservations, violence against women is alarmingly high. In fact, statistics show 40 percent of American Indian women will suffer domestic violence. It’s unacceptable. We need strong action to protect all women and families from all forms of violence.

The U.S. Senate’s Violence Against Women Act – which I supported – will go a long way to improving the lives of Native American women. Our bill offers new tools for law enforcement and survivors to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives stripped these lifesaving provisions from their version of the bill.

The House’s irresponsible actions show that some folks don’t understand the challenges facing Indian Country.

When I first arrived in the Senate in 2007 and became Montana’s only member of the Indian Affairs Committee, I quickly held hearings to address public safety in Indian Country. I learned that some reservations had only one police officer responsible for covering hundreds of square miles and that U.S. Attorneys were unable to prosecute more than half the cases referred to them.

Those hearings led me to introduce the Tribal Law and Order Act. This law will go a long way toward making reservation communities safer. But we can do more.

That’s why I’ve worked with my Senate colleagues to improve the conditions in Indian Country communities, backing smart legislation like the SAVE Native Women Act, which was incorporated into the Senate’s version of the Violence Against Women Act. It recognizes tribes’ jurisdiction to take legal actions against those who commit violence against women in Indian Country, stiffens penalties for offenders, and dedicates more resources to public safety in Indian Country.

These measures aim to do one thing: make Indian Country safer.

We know that empowering Native American women will strengthen all of Indian Country. It will make our homes, neighborhoods, businesses and schools safer.

Safe Indian communities are necessary for economic growth, new job opportunities and hope for the future.

There is no time to lose when safety is at stake. The unacceptable statistics in Indian Country remind us that we have an obligation to support and improve Indian communities.

Unfortunately, the House of Representatives watered down the Violence Against Women Act. Its version of the bill removed protections for Native American women and resources for Indian Country that the Senate version includes.

I’ll keep pushing the House to reconsider its decision as I continue to stand up for Montana’s Indian Country. The safety of Native American women and the future of Indian Country are too important to ignore. I won’t let that happen on my watch.

Sen. Jon Tester (D) is a third generation Montana farmer.

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