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Sovereign Women Build Sovereign Nations

Robert Doody,
ACLU of South Dakota
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August 13, 2010

In the past few weeks, we at the ACLU have been able to rejoice over several provisions of a recent piece of legislation signed into law on July 28 by President Obama. The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 dedicates additional resources and grants additional powers to American Indian tribes throughout the country to combat the serious crisis of sexual assault and domestic violence against American Indian women. The act expands training programs for tribal officers on how to interview sexual assault victims and provides for additional training on evidence collection so that more convictions for sexual assault can occur. The new act also allows for greater collaboration between Indian Health Services and the Department of Justice on standardized protocols for how to handle and work with sexual assault victims.

Domestic violence and sexual assault are an epidemic on American Indian Reservations throughout the country. According to Department of Justice statistics, American Indian women are raped at a rate more than double that of rapes reported by all races on an annual average. In South Dakota we see the effects of these high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence every day as we advocate on behalf of American Indian people.

With such high rates of sexual assault and violence, tribal communities are paralyzed by the overwhelming burden of these crimes, while American Indian women are further marginalized by local law enforcement. Without safety and without respect, American Indian women and the tribes they belong to cannot grow and flourish. No woman should live in fear for her basic safety or be forced to live in a place where those who commit such crimes are not held accountable because of federal policy. At the ACLU, we have highlighted the need for more effective legal remedies and the expansion of services for survivors of violence.

We are grateful that the United States has decided to address this serious issue by supporting women and their tribes. It is only through empowering women and their communities that such high incidents of sexual assault and violence can be combated. As of last week, we as a nation are closer to protecting the basic rights of a group of people who have been marginalized by violence, racism and sexism. By advancing the rights of women and children to live free of fear and violence, we are moving closer to realizing the country we all want for our families and neighbors.

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