Ed. Note: We encourage readers to watch the video of the signing, including the moving introduction from Lisa Marie Iyotte.
The President just signed the Tribal Law and Order Act -- an important step to help the Federal Government better address the unique public safety challenges that confront tribal communities.
According to a Department of Justice report, Native American women suffer from violent crime at a rate three and a half times greater than the national average. Astoundingly, one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes. At the White House Tribal Nations Conference in November 2009, President Obama stated that this shocking figure "is an assault on our national conscience that we can no longer ignore."
Last week, Congress took another important step to improve the lives of Native American women by passing the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. The Act includes a strong emphasis on decreasing violence against women in Native communities, and is one of many steps this Administration strongly supports to address the challenges faced by Native women.
The stipulations in the Act that will benefit Native women reflect several Administration priorities. The Act will strengthen tribal law enforcement and the ability to prosecute and fight crime more effectively. The Indian Health Care Improvement Act will require that a standardized set of practices be put in place for victims of sexual assault in health facilities. Now, more women will get the care they need, both for healing and to aid in the prosecution of their perpetrators.
Victims of domestic violence and sexual assault will now more often encounter authorities who have been trained to handle such cases. The Act expands training of tribal enforcement officers on the best ways to interview victims of domestic and sexual violence and the importance of collecting evidence to improve rates of conviction. The Director of Indian Health Services will coordinate with the Department of Justice, Tribes, Tribal organizations and urban Indian organizations to develop standardized sexual assault policies and protocols.
Special Assistant US Attorneys will be deputized under the Act to prosecute reservation crimes in Federal courts, and tribes will be given greater authority to hold perpetrators accountable. These provisions help to increase communication between tribal law enforcement, Federal authorities and the court system. As numbers of convictions grow, more women may be willing to report the abuses against them so that their abusers may be prosecuted.
However, the Act focuses not only on prosecution but also on prevention. It reauthorizes and improves programs to prevent and treat alcohol and substance abuse, as well as programs that improve opportunities for at-risk Indian youth. Getting men and boys involved in stopping the violence against women and girls is an important step to ending it everywhere, giving youth a chance to change their own futures.
This Act, combined with the great work that Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice are doing to combat violence in American Indian/Alaska Native communities, is an important step towards our Administration’s priority of ending violence against women and girls, and making Native communities safer and more secure. One in three is a statistic that is intolerable, and the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 will help to change that.
Lynn Rosenthal is the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women