May 24, 2019

Udall Calls for a Vote on VAWA with Tribal Provisions to Address Epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, renewed his call on Senate leadership to take up a comprehensive reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with key Tribal provisions to protect Native women and make Tribal communities safer. 

“The crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is rooted in the alarming rates of violence against Native women that too often goes unaddressed because of jurisdictional gaps. In 2013, I was proud to lead the charge to make sure that Native women were included in the Violence Against Women Act. That was a step in the right direction. But there are still gaps in VAWA that allow violent offenders to slip through the cracks of the justice system,” said Udall. “We must take bipartisan action to end the cycle of violence by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and strengthening provisions to protect Native women – like those I put forward in the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act and the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Assault Act.

“We cannot allow a comprehensive reauthorization of VAWA – which would increase the safety and security of countless women in New Mexico and across Indian Country – to be buried in the Majority Leader’s ‘legislative graveyard.’ Not when women’s lives are literally at stake. I urge Majority Leader McConnell and Republican leadership to join our efforts to address the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and reauthorize VAWA,” said Udall. 

Last month, the House of Representatives voted on a bipartisan basis to reauthorize VAWA, which expired in February and included critical measures to improve protections for Native women that build on the landmark Tribal jurisdiction provisions of the 2013 reauthorization. 

These measures are based on Udall’s bipartisan bill, the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (NYTOPA), and Senator Tina Smith’s (D-Minn.) bipartisan bill, the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act, which Udall co-sponsored. NYTOPA reaffirms Tribal authority to prosecute attempted and threatened domestic violence and extends the VAWA 2013 protections to children and law enforcement personnel on Tribal lands. Senator Smith’s bill addresses sexual violence on Indian reservations by restoring Tribal authority to prosecute cases of sexual assault, sex trafficking, and stalking.

Udall developed the Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act (NYTOPA) in response to feedback from Tribes and Native women’s advocates that violent offenders continued to use legal loopholes to avoid prosecution in Tribal communities. The bill will also enhance federal coordination of victim resources for Tribal communities. 

As vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Udall has helped lead efforts in Congress to combat violence against Native women by convening oversight hearings and listening sessions to learn from Tribes on how to implement and improve VAWA to better serve Indian Country’s needs. Udall was also a leader in the 2013 effort to amend VAWA to restore Tribal jurisdiction over domestic violence crimes committed on reservations, which was instrumental to ensuring that Native women have the same protection from domestic abuse as all other women in the United States. Earlier in his career, he worked to prevent and prosecute domestic violence when he served as New Mexico’s attorney general, convening the first statewide roundtable on domestic violence.

Udall cosponsored a resolution designating May 5th as a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls – and led a group of 5 Senate Democrats to call for the Senate to take up the  VAWA reauthorization. Available data from the Department of Justice indicates there are more than 5,000 cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and that 55 percent of Native women have experienced domestic violence.