No safety without sovereignty

The debate in Congress is still raging over whether to reauthorize the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). One of the major points of conflict between the champions of the bipartisan Senate bill and the deeply flawed Republican House version is over the power Indian tribes have to investigate and prosecute domestic violence crimes.

The Senate bill would restore Indian tribes’ ability to prosecute non-Indians who assault their Indian spouses or domestic partners. Dating back to the much-criticized 1978 Supreme Court case Oliphant vs. Suquamish Indian Tribe, only the federal government can prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians on tribal land. The decision was a disaster for tribes’ ability to protect their communities.

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The vast majority of violent crimes against Native women are committed by non-Indian men, and current law leaves a gaping hole in accountability for abusers and protections for victims. Tribes do not have the authority to hold these offenders accountable, and the federal government does not have the resources or the will. Federal authorities decline to prosecute 46% of assaults and 67% of sexual abuse cases in Indian country.

Violence against Native women is at epidemic levels, and has been for many years. A new CDC study shows that 46% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have been raped, physically assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner. In Washington State, Native women are killed by husbands and boyfriends at nearly three times the rate of white women.

Safety for victims of violence and sovereignty for tribes go hand in hand. Some VAWA opponents are using misinformation and scare tactics to try to minimize the extent of violence against Native women and deny tribes the tools to confront it. Tuesday, June 26th will be a National Day of Action to support the real VAWA and its long overdue protections for Native women.  Make sure your representatives know where you stand.

What next? Part 5

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Here is the next installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #4: Love those teenagers 

We often talk about the need to shift popular culture and change social norms. This is the language of primary prevention, and it is gaining momentum throughout the mainstream domestic violence and sexual assault field. For the past 8 years, I have watched the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many of our colleagues on the mainland strategize about how to integrate prevention activities into our work, and we are now beginning to see these efforts take root in some of the target communities.  Almost all of it involves teen and youth engagement.

While I’ve been largely uninvolved in the CDC initiative, I have been hard at work closer to home. Unfortunately for my 15-year-old son, Hanson, and some of his friends, they too are participating. My frequent announcements of “I feel a lecture coming on” are met by loud groans and an occasional “oh god.” Video games, music, TV, certain levels of Angry Birds―nothing is held harmless. I’ve played “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto,” watched “Jersey Shore” and two of the “Jackass” movies, and danced to “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Teach Me How to Dougie.” I am offended by almost all of it, but Hanson is at an age where he is regurgitating the advice he has received his whole life. Don’t reject something without trying it first. And you can’t change what you don’t know. So I study what I can, and go about my parenting in fits and starts.

There is very little polish on most of what I do as a parent. Some day in the future, Hanson and I will thoroughly evaluate my briefings on pornography, condoms, sexting, and what girls like.  Someday, I hope he will understand that my social norms work with him really boils down to a mother’s love for her son.