Take A Stand Against the Rape of Native Women

umatilla reservation

Target: Eric Holder, Attorney General

Goal: Commend the Justice Department’s implementation of pilot programs to combat rape on Indian lands, and urge further progress

It’s a shocking statistic: one in three Native women is raped, and three out of five are subjected to domestic abuse. What is even more upsetting is the fact that, due to a loophole in the law, offenders are rarely ever charged, let alone prosecuted or convicted. However, a recently-passed amendment to the Violence Against Women Act has sought to close the loophole, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) has rolled out a pilot program to put the law into practice. Sign the petition commending the DOJ for this small step forward and urging it to continue to stand up for the rights of Native women.

The loophole that figures in so many cases of violence against women stems from a jurisdictional issue: non-Native offenders cannot be tried under tribal laws, even if the act–be it rape, domestic abuse, kidnapping, or murder–takes place on tribal lands. One Native woman whose white husband abused her recounts a chilling tale of her husband calling up the sheriff to report the abuse himself, just “to show that he couldn’t be arrested.” After the woman filed for divorce, her husband showed up at her workplace and attempted to kill her. A coworker managed to push her out of the way, taking a bullet himself in the process, but even this crime was stymied by jurisdictional disputes. The woman’s husband, who was considered a first-time offender because his abuse had never been officially documented, was eventually able to secure a plea deal for “aggravated driving under revocation” when he tried to cross state lines.

Stories like this are far too commonplace, but the DOJ’s pilot program seeks to amend the issues of jurisdiction, beginning with three tribal nations–“the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Tulalip Tribes of Washington state and the Umatilla tribes of Oregon.” Although the program is a step in the right direction, there is still much work that needs to be done to ensure that Native women are safe from assault, rape, and other violence. “No one would have ever designed a system from scratch to look like the system that has come down to us through the generations,” says Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch, and he is right–the entire system must be overhauled. It will not be easy, and it will not happen quickly, but it is of the utmost importance that the glaring problems of tribal jurisdiction be addressed. Sign the petition and lend your voice to those calling for justice for Native women.


Dear Attorney General Holder,

The recent passage of Section 904 of the Violence Against Women Act constitutes a significant step toward ending the violence that Native women face every day. The recently-unveiled pilot programs for the Pascua Yaqui, Tulalip, and Umatilla tribes are promising as well, but still more must be done. I urge you to carefully monitor the pilot programs, to expand them as quickly as is feasible, and to continue to pursue actions that will close the loopholes in what the Washington Post calls “a patchwork of laws, treaties and Supreme Court decisions.”

Native women are among the most underserved groups in America, and they face staggering violence statistics: one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime, and three in five are victims of domestic violence. The fact that the current legal system favors their attackers is disheartening and disappointing. Clearly, the “patchwork” approach is not working. The entire system must be overhauled. I acknowledge that this process will not be easy, and that change will not come quickly. However, change must come. Native women have waited too long for justice already.

The pilot program and the passage of Section 904 are important, but they are only the first steps in a journey towards a legal system that truly represents “liberty and justice for all.”


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Mary Anne Thygesen via Flickr

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