By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that American Indian women face a battering rate of 23.2 per 1,000 – almost three times that of Caucasian women (8 per 1,000). The Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians recently passed legislation that increases the fines for those convicted of domestic violence to $1,000.
The legislation is not law until ratified by Principal Chief Michell Hicks which has not happened as of press time.
“The underlying reason for the enhanced penalty is not to place a hardship on families, but as a deterrent from abuse,” said Iva Key, EBCI Domestic Violence program manager. “I feel this is one of the stronger messages being sent to batterers.”
She also noted, “By passing this Ordinance, Tribal Council expressed their intolerance of domestic violence crimes on the reservation. We are fortunate to have supportive leadership as we continue our efforts to combat this serious issue. Our hope is that abusers will think about the greater repercussions resulting from their actions before they strike their intimate partner.”
Key related that 111 Domestic Violence Expartes were issued on EBCI tribal lands in 2011 and 103 in 2012. So far, the EBCI Domestic Violence Program has helped with five in 2013.
But, she cautioned that the numbers do not necessarily reflect all of the incidents.
“I feel confident in saying there are many domestic violence incidents that go unreported,” said Key. “Additionally, we work with many victims that choose to not involve law enforcement and the court. Multiple tribal programs are working together to get a grasp on domestic violence crimes and ensure abusers are held accountable.”
Key related that half of the money collected in fines will be used for victim services and the remaining will go towards outreach and prevention education in the community.
Violence Against Women Act
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first passed by Congress in 1994. It was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.
The Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Act (Reauthorization) Act of 2012 passed the Senate in April. A very different version passed the Senate a month later. Many tribal provisions were left out of the Senate bill, and neither side was able to come together and the bill died in the 112th Congress.
The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women said in a statement on Wednesday, Jan. 2, “While we came very close, time ran out. We were all deeply disappointed that a final bill was not reached in the 112th Congress. The U.S. House of Representatives continued to voice strong opposition to offering basic protections to certain vulnerable populations.”
“While the reauthorization is dead, VAWA itself is very much alive and will continue in its 2005 version.”
In a letter to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) on Dec. 20, 2012, NCAI president Jefferson Keel wrote, “Tribal leaders cannot agree to provisions that undermine the purpose of the legislation, and we have such a strong obligation to protect Native women. The current proposed amendments would compound the jurisdictional challenges. Our preference is that the bi-partisan tribal provisions from the Senate bill be taken up in the House.”
Painttown Rep. Terri Henry serves as co-chair of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women and has worked on women’s issues for years. She too preferred the Senate version of the bill.
“Senate passage of this bill is a tremendous step forward for tribal jurisdiction over all persons perpetrating violence against Indian women,” Rep. Henry said after the Senate passage last April. “This means that our tribal court can protect our Cherokee women from such abuse by non-Indians, provided certain Constitutional protections are met.”