The Need for SDVCJ

“The combination of the silence that comes from victims who live in fear and a lack of accountability by outside jurisdictions to prosecute that crime, you’ve created if you will, the perfect storm for domestic violence and sexual assault, which is exactly what all of the statistics would bear out.” —The Honorable Theresa Pouley Former Chief Judge, Tulalip Tribes of Washington[1]

For over three decades before VAWA 2013, tribes did not have jurisdiction over any crimes committed by non-Indians on their reservations.[2] In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in Oliphant v. Suquamish that, absent specific direction from Congress, tribal nations do not have jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-Indians in Indian Country.[3]  Congress recognized the impacts of this ruling.

“Criminals tend to see Indian reservations and Alaska Native villages as places they have free reign, where they can hide behind the current ineffectiveness of the judicial system. Without the authority to prosecute crimes of violence against women, a cycle of violence is perpetuated that allows, and even encourages, criminals to act with impunity in Tribal communities and denies Native women equality under the law by treating them differently than other women in the United States.” — Senate Committee on Indian Affairs[4]

Numerous researchers and policy commissions have concluded that jurisdictional complexities in Indian Country were a part of the problem. As the Ninth Circuit summarized in a 1994 report, “Jurisdictional complexities, geographic isolation, and institutional resistance impede effective protection of women subjected to violence within Indian Country.”[5]

For years, Indian tribal governments have raised concerns about the high rates of domestic violence on Indian reservations and the inadequate criminal justice response to those crimes.[6]  On July 21, 2011, following extensive consultation with tribal governments, the DOJ took the unusual step of submitting a legislative proposal to Congress intended to address the “jurisdictional framework [that] has left many serious acts of domestic violence and dating violence unprosecuted and unpunished” in Indian Country.[7]  That proposal formed the basis of what would become the tribal provisions of VAWA 2013.