Combating Violence Against Indigenous Women

Last month the U.S. House Interior and Environment Appropriations subcommittee convened to hear from experts who testified about the ongoing epidemic of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women in the United States. The subcommittee is about to address the FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act and asked to hear from the experts in order to properly prepare a draft of the FY 2010 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill. The FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act includes a $235 million and $85 million increase in funding from the previous year for the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

The subcommittee heard from several experts about the importance of using federal funding and established programs to help reduce cases of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women. Experts also sited U.S. Department of Justice statistics, which show that Native American and Alaska Native women are more than two and a half times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the United States. Indigenous victims of sexual violence also face a more complicated series of federal, state, tribal and local laws that can be difficult to understand and access. Also, the agencies set up to help victims with the consequences of violence are incredibly underfunded, so victims have little support and assistance from social service agencies.

Fortunately, the explanatory statement in the FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act mandates the BIA to collaborate with the IHS in order to figure out how to best reduce cases of sexual violence against indigenous women, so a strong partnership in developing a solution is focusing on the problem. The BIA is also asked to work with community advocates and tribal leaders to learn how they can establish clear standards of practice and standardized protocols for responding to sexual assaults and provide training programs with culturally sensitive protocols.

If the House and Senate continue to make the discussion regarding sexual violence against indigenous women a priority and promote infrastructure through funding and agency collaboration with victims, that will help the situation tremendously. BIA, IHS, and Native women will also work hard to help establish standardized sexual assault protocols and training for responding to cases of sexual violence against indigenous women. Hopefully the subcommittee's high standards for federal agencies that work with these victims will also have a positive effect in curbing this tragic epidemic. Only time will tell, but with all of the leadership and support behind positive initiatives decreasing sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women, it is a much more hopeful wait.

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