Indian Affairs Committee Investigating Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault Rates

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing Thursday looking at the issue of the staggering rates of domestic violence and sexual assault perpetrated against Native women. Entitled Protecting, Shielding and Safeguarding our sisters, mothers and daughters, committee chairman Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka said many Native women find themselves in unbearable situations. The numbers are bleak. One in three will be sexually assaulted and two in five will be the victims of domestic violence.

Senator Lisa Murkowski is a committee member. She lamented that even though Alaska has struggled to try to improve those statistics, she says she meets with far too many women who say the bad behavior continues and ripples through communities. She also agreed with Senator Akaka that sex trafficking is real and happening to young Native women in Alaska.

Tom Perrelli is an associate Attorney General at the U.S. Justice department. He testified that violence in Native communities is a very high priority for the Justice department. He said DOJ is formally consulting with tribes about how best to protect women. He said the current legal structure is not well suited to combat the escalating violence. But he says he sees tribal authority gaps that congress can address.  He says there is at least one ruling that says tribal courts can’t issue or enforce protective orders against non-Indians who reside on tribal lands.

He says it’s also important for federal law to follow states that have developed more severe sanctions as bad conduct increases.

Senator Akaka stressed the hearing record would be open for two weeks and he encouraged the submission of written comments.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for Alaska Public Media. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for nearly 30 years. Radio brought her to Alaska, where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting before accepting a reporting/host position with APRN in 2003. APRN merged with Alaska Public Media a year later. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. 

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