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Akaka holds hearing on domestic violence, sex trafficking

MEDIA RELEASE

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, held a hearing Thursday examining impact of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking issues on Native women and reviewing the effectiveness of current federal agency efforts to address the problem.

“For Native peoples, women are sacred,” Akaka said. “They bring life and nurture us. They malama, they care for our peoples, and we must malama them. Many Native peoples mark the important stages of a woman’s life with ceremonies and community celebration. And yet, many Native women find themselves in unbearable situations that threaten their security, stability, and even their lives.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 39 percent of Native women have experienced intimate partner violence – the highest percentage in the U.S. Native women are also more than five times as likely to die from domestic violence-related injuries than women of any other background.

Additionally, one out of every three Native women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

“Grant programs for tribal programs are not meeting the needs, and accessing funds from these programs has many barriers,” said Carmen O’Leary, Director of the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains. “This often results in a mindset that sexual assault, although not acceptable in other places, is acceptable in Indian Country.”

Part of the problem comes from the power that abusers wield within the jurisdictional maze.

“Many episodes of violence against Native women include perpetrators who know that they can continue to offend without any consequences due to the unique and confusing jurisdictional rules present in Indian country,” said Sherry Sanchez Tibbets, Executive Director of the American Indian Community Housing Organization.

“With a jurisdictional fix that restores tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians for these limited crimes, the offender that goes unpunished under the current system might finally get what he deserves and his victim might finally achieve a sense of peace, knowing that justice was served,” Tibbets said.

Professor Sarah Deer, Amnesty International USA’s Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council Member, testified that one of the biggest detriments to protecting Native women from sexual violence is the lack of knowledge about how severe the abuse is across Indian Country.

“Crimes of sexual violence are often undocumented and known to be underreported – and due to the nature of trafficking and prostitution, current understanding and analysis of just how widespread and severe the problems are known to be partial at best,” she said.

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