Ahead Of MMIW Day Of Awareness, Udall Calls On Senate To Take Action On MMIW Crisis And Pass VAWA Reauthorization With Key Tribal Provisions Immediately
Udall-championed measures included in House-passed VAWA legislation would address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis, make Tribal communities safer
WASHINGTON – Ahead of the May 5 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Day of Awareness, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) called on Senate Republicans to take action to curb the alarming epidemic of violence against women in Indian Country by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and ensuring that it includes key Tribal provisions to protect Native women and communities. Udall also cosponsored a resolution designating May 5 as a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls, which passed the Senate this week. Available data from the Department of Justice indicates there are more than 5,000 cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and that 55 percent of Native women have experienced domestic violence.
Last month, the House of Representatives passed legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which expired in February. The legislation includes important provisions that would build on the landmark Tribal jurisdiction provisions of the 2013 reauthorization, including measures based on Udall’s bipartisan bill, the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (NYTOPA), and Senator Tina Smith’s (D-Minn.) bipartisan bill, the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act, which Udall co-sponsored.
Udall was also a leader in the 2013 effort to amend VAWA to restore Tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence crimes committed on reservations, which was instrumental to ensuring that Native women enjoy the same protection from domestic abuse as all other women in the United States. Earlier in his career, he worked to prevent and prosecute domestic violence when he served as New Mexico’s attorney general, and even convened the first statewide roundtable on domestic violence.
“Over a quarter century ago, Republicans and Democrats came together to pass VAWA and commit vital resources to help support survivors, prosecute abusers, and address violence against women. Since then, Congress has worked on a bipartisan basis to reauthorize this landmark legislation three times – each time setting aside party politics to improve the original law. And we’ve made real progress to protect women from violence and abuse, especially Native women who face a higher risk of violence and assault, and go missing at higher rates. One of my proudest fights in Congress was leading the effort to include strong protections for Native women in the 2013 VAWA reauthorization. But we must do much more to address gaps in Tribal jurisdiction, and ensure that Tribes have the resources and authority they need to see that Native communities are safe and strong, and that justice is served.”
“The crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is rooted in the alarming rates of violence against Native women that too often goes unaddressed because of jurisdictional gaps. We must work together to address the magnitude of this crisis and make the safety of Tribal communities a bipartisan priority,” Udall continued. “The House has already voted to reauthorize VAWA – and included key Tribal provisions that I’ve championed to combat the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Indian Country. Now, it’s the Senate’s turn. I urge Majority Leader McConnell and Republican leadership to join our efforts to address MMIW and reauthorize VAWA. We must act now to strengthen the law and fully extend its protections to Tribal communities — the safety and security of countless women in New Mexico and across Indian Country hang in the balance.”
Udall developed the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (NYTOPA) in response to feedback from Tribes and Native women’s advocates that violent offenders continued to use legal loopholes to avoid prosecution in Tribal communities. The bill address three such loopholes by reaffirming Tribal authority to prosecute attempted and threatened domestic violence and extending protections to children and law enforcement personnel involved in domestic violence incidents on Tribal lands. The bill will also enhance federal coordination of victim resources for Tribal communities.
As vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Udall has helped lead efforts in Congress to combat violence against Native women by convening oversight hearings and listening sessions to learn from Tribes on how to implement and improve VAWA to better serve Indian Country’s needs. He has also introduced bipartisan legislation, Savanna’s Act, to combat the MMIW crisis by increasing coordination among all levels of law enforcement, improving data collection and information sharing, and empowering Tribal governments with the resources they need in cases involving missing and murdered indigenous women and girls wherever they occur.
The VAWA reauthorization passed by the House includes measures to address the MMIW crisis by:
- Restoring Tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Members who commit crimes against children, and law enforcement personnel responsible for enforcing the 2013 VAWA jurisdiction
- Restoring Tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Members for crimes of sexual violence, stalking, sex trafficking, stalking, and obstruction of justice
- Increasing Tribal access to federal criminal databases, making it easier to track and document MMIW cases;
- Requiring the Department of Justice and Department of Interior to submit an annual MMIW report to Congress summarizing what is known about the crisis