WASHINGTON – On Tuesday, following the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls on May 5,U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, led a day of action to draw attention to the alarming epidemic of violence against women in Indian Country, and demand Senate action to make Tribal communities safer.Last month, the House of Representatives voted on a bipartisan basis to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which expired in February, and included critical measures— based on Udall’s bipartisan bill, the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (NYTOPA), and Smith’s bipartisan bill, the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act, which Udall cosponsored — to improve protections for Native women that build on the landmark Tribal jurisdiction provisions of the 2013 reauthorization.The Senate has yet to take up the House-passed VAWA legislation.
Tuesday morning, Udall held a press conference call with reporters to discuss his efforts in Congress to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW). During the call, Udall outlined how Congress can do more to support Tribes as they work to make Native communities safer – including re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with key Tribal provisions.
“In 2013, I was proud to lead the charge to make sure that Native women were included in the Violence Against Women Act,”Udall said during the conference call.“That was a step in the right direction. But there are still gaps in VAWA that undermine the very purpose of the law. These gaps allow violent offenders to slip through the cracks of the justice system. We must reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and strengthen provisions to protect Native women— like those I put forward in the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act and the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Assault Act.”
“The House of Representatives already passed these measures last month on a bipartisan basis – as part of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2019,”Udall concluded. “Now it is the Senate’s turn to act – so we can end this violence, and address the root causes of this crisis.”
Later in the day, Udall led a group of Democrats in speaking on the Senate floor to call for action. In a series of back-to-back speeches,Udall, along withU.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.),andPatty Murray (D-Wash.)called for bipartisan action, including urging Republican Senate leadershipto take up a comprehensivereauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with key Tribal provisions to protect Native women and make Tribal communities safer.
“This [missing and murdered Indigenous women] crisis is devastating Native familiesacross the country. It’s unacceptable,” said Udall.
“We must take bipartisan action to end the cycle of violence,”Udall continued.“And we should start by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and strengthening provisions to protect Native women.”
“Senators Murkowski and Smith and I have introduced the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act to ensure Tribes can exercise jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against children and tribal officers, and attempted domestic violence… We have also introduced the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act, which makes sure that Tribes have authority to prosecute sexual assault, sex trafficking, and stalking crimes. The House of Representatives already passed these measures last month on a bipartisan basis – as part the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2019. It is now our turn to take action,”Udall concluded.“We cannot allow this bill to be buried in the Majority Leader’s so-called ‘legislative graveyard.’ Not when women’s lives are literally at stake. Friends: We must all agree it is long past time to address violence against women in Indian Country.”
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. 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.
Udall has also 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.
The full text of Udall’s floor speech as prepared for delivery is available HERE. Watch the video HERE.