Safe Women, Strong Nations project combats rape on reservations


According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the incidence of violence against Native women is three times greater than that experienced by white, Latino or African American women in the United States. 

“One in three Indian women in the United States is raped in her lifetime,” said Lucy Rain Simpson, a citizen of the Navaho Nation and an attorney for the Indian Law Resource Center in Helena, Montana.  “Three in five Native women will be victims of a violent assault.  This is an epidemic of violence that the United States government should be ashamed of.”

Simpson spoke at Birchbark Books in Minneapolis July 29 to an audience of 30 people. The Safe Women, Strong Nation project works to prevent violence against Native women by ensuring they receive equal access to justice.

When a crime is reported on a reservation, the maze of questions asked is:  Is this a tribal issue, state or federal?  What race is the victim? What race is the offender?  Where was the crime committed?  What kind of crime?  Is it a misdemeanor or major crime? 

“Non-Indians commit 85 percent of rapes [on reservations] and we cannot prosecute the offender,” said Simpson. “Major crimes such as murder or rape go to the state or federal investigators. And 75 percent of cases are chosen not to be prosecuted by the federal government.”

“Because tribes cannot prosecute major crimes,” said Simpson, “some tribes have chosen to list murder or rape as a misdemeanor so they can try the offender in Indian country.”

According to the SWSN project report:

The current criminal jurisdictional scheme created by the United States government impedes the ability of Indian nations to properly protect their citizens, and the federal government has drastically cut funding to law enforcement in Indian Country.  This has resulted in the erosion of tribal jurisdictional authority and a denial of equality under the law to Indian nations and women.  Indians want to effectively police their lands and prosecute offender.

“The Tribal Law and Order Act that Obama just passed, provides a little step in the right direction,” said Simpson.  “Our sentences for major crimes, which used to be one year is now extended to three years.  More attorneys will be on cases and some will actually live on reservations.”

For more information on the new law, see Bachmann votes against act to help Native American police combat rape “epidemic”

This SWSN project is a part of a larger mission of the Indian Law Center.  The center helps indigenous people from Alaska, mainland America, Mexico, Central and South Americas with environmental protection, land and resources rights, and law reform.  Much of their work has created international human rights standards for indigenous people through United Nations and the Organization of the American States.

Simpson suggested, “If readers want to be helpful I’d suggest that they financially support their local Indian organizations.”