One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Troubling Fatherly Advice from Too $hort April 13, 2012

Filed under: childhood sexual abuse,dating violence,rape,sexual assault — Women's Studies Intern @ 10:21 am
Tags: , , ,

Earlier this year, XXL Magazine, a hip-hop magazine that is popular with teenagers, posted a video on XXLMag.com of rapper Too $hort offering fatherly advice to middle- and high-school aged boys.  In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month we have decided to dedicate this blog post to discussing the troubling messages offered in Too $hort’s video, the effects they can have on his audience, and why we should care about this issue.

In the video interview, Too $hort details a scene of sexual violence.  He offers male viewers “a couple of tricks” to achieve what he calls “mind manipulation.”  He urges his audience to “[push a girl] up against the wall or [pull] her up against you while you lean on the wall,” insert a spit-covered finger into her underwear and rub her “general area down there” to “watch what happens.”  He never mentions consent.  The video caused an immediate uproar and was subsequently removed from XXLMag.com, who issued an apology

While Too $hort’s video focuses on sexual assault without specifically mentioning dating or domestic violence, research shows that 40-45% of victims of domestic violence are experiencing or have experienced sexual assault at the hands of a current or former partner.  Too $hort urges his audience to use force to gain control over a girl and manipulate her into getting what he wants.  This scenario exemplifies characteristics of an abusive relationship, which can be illustrated in the Power and Control WheelCoercion, intimidation, and force are examples of behaviors that can create an imbalance of power in a relationship and results in one partner having more power and control over the other, evidencing an abusive relationship.  Sexual violence affects our clients and potentially the young adults we reach out to in our Start Strong programs.

Videos like this cause us to stop and think about the messages that permeate pop culture to affect the opinions and actions of kids and teens.  Stars such as Lady Gaga, who advocates for LGBTQ rights, and America Ferrera, who promotes positive body image, can serve as great role models for teens.  However, Too $hort, who has produced explicit songs such as “Gettin’ It”, “More Freaky Tales”, and “Porno B*tch”, is sending a dangerous message.  Dani McClain, a writer for MomsRising.org, believes that “Too $hort’s rhetoric implies that hypersexuality and manhood are one and the same, and implies that consent isn’t required for sexual contact.”

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are real problems that teen and pre-teen American girls are facing.  A 2011 study conducted by the Association of American University Women shows that one in four adolescent girls are the victims of sexual assault or harassment in the seventh through twelfth grades.  Another recent study by Black Women’s Blueprint reports that three out of five black girls experience sexual assault at the hands of black boys and men by the age of eighteen.   93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker.

Too $hort has taken to Twitter to express his opinions on XXL Magazine, his video, and the public’s response. [In response to the criticism he’s received, Too $hort has posted statements concerning the video on Twitter.  On February 14th he wrote, “Sorry if it offended U not sorry for telling a bad joke.”] Why not do the same?  How do you feel about XXL Magazine’s response?  What do you think the posting of the video says about how our society and the media treat sexual violence?  Organizations, such as MomsRising and We Are the 44%, have asked for the resignation of XXLMag.com’s Editor in Chief Vanessa Satten and Too $hort’s completion of education and sensitivity training on sexual assault and rape, among other things.  What would you like to see happen in response to Too $hort’s troubling video?  Share your thoughts!

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The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 March 29, 2012

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was originally passed in 1994 in response to the prevalence of domestic violence and the pervasive effects that it has on victims’ and survivors’ lives.  The Act is set up to be authorized about every five years and was thus reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.  The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 (S.1925) was introduced in the Senate on November 30, 2011 and appeared before the Committee on the Judiciary on February 7, 2012.  VAWA is set to be brought before the Senate in the near future, possibly even this week.

Upon introducing VAWA on the Senate Floor, Senator Leahy, the Sponsor of the Act, made a statement urging all Senators to support VAWA.  He stated, “[VAWA] seeks to expand the law’s focus on sexual assault, to ensure access to services for all victims of domestic and sexual violence, and to address the crisis of domestic and sexual violence in tribal communities, among other important steps.  It also responds to these difficult economic times by consolidating programs, reducing authorization levels, and adding accountability measures to ensure that Federal funds are used efficiently and effectively.”  He notes that for the past eighteen years, the Violence Against Women Act has been “the centerpiece of the Federal Government’s commitment to combat domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.” 

In 2009 more than two thousand advocates responded to national conference calls and surveys regarding the most pressing issues facing victims and survivors of interpersonal violence and the barriers to full implementation of VAWA.  Subsequently, the responses were recorded and three of the top issues recognized were barriers to service for undocumented victims, lack of services to LGBTQ victims, and high levels of violence among Native Alaskan and Native American women.

The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women states, “VAWA programs…give law enforcement, prosecutors and judges the tools they need to hold offenders accountable and keep communities safe while supporting victims.”  The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 includes several changes to the Reauthorization Act of 2005, including providing more resources for underserved populations, enhancing law enforcement and judicial tools to combat violence against women, strengthening the healthcare system’s response to interpersonal violence, and providing safe homes, economic security, and legal services to victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  Fact sheets detailing the specifics of the many facets of VAWA and examples of what organizations receive funding from VAWA can be found here.

On February 13, 2012 The Diane Rehm Show, aired by NPR and WAMU 88.5, hosted three women to discuss “Objections to Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act”.  Listen to the broadcast here.  The panel of women included Amy Myers, Professor and Director of the Domestic Violence Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law, Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women, and Janice Crouse, Senior Fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for Concerned Women for America.  Myers and O’Neill voiced their support for VAWA, while Crouse shared her concerns with the Act.  Crouse argued that there are no indicators that VAWA has reduced the occurrence of interpersonal violence.  However, the U.S. Department of Justice has reported that since VAWA was first enacted, reporting of domestic violence has increased by as much as 51%.  Myers and O’Neill rebut Crouse’s claim by stating that the rise in reporting evidences the increased visibility and accessibility of services to victims and survivors.  Organizations like legal clinics and shelters are saving lives.   Homicides at the hands of intimate partners have decreased by 57% for men and 34% for women, which is reported to have a direct correlation with the increase in legal aid and protection orders due to the Violence Against Women Act.

Amy Myers shared that the Centers for Disease Control reported that for the 1.6 billion that was allocated for VAWA in 1994, the United States saved 12.6 billion dollars, which can be attributed to decreased spending on health care, police forces, and lost wages due to injury.  Terry O’Neill believes that the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 needs to be passed and fully funded because “it is a start.”  There are many reasons why people from both political parties believe that VAWA does not do enough, but she believes that this should not be a reason to not pass the Act.

There are currently sixty co-sponsors of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011, including North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan.  However, Senator Richard Burr is not a co-sponsor of VAWA.  If you support VAWA, please contact your Senators and share your opinions.  The phone number for Senator Burr’s Office is (202)224-3154 and the phone number for Senator Hagan’s Office is (202)224-6342.  Consider thanking Senator Kay Hagan for co-sponsoring VAWA and urging her to continue to support all victims and survivors of interpersonal violence.  Consider urging Senator Richard Burr to support VAWA and vote yes when the Act reaches the Senate Floor.  No matter your opinion regarding the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011, please take the time to contact Senators Burr and Hagan to share your opinions on this extremely important matter that affects far too many Americans.  Have questions or comments about VAWA?  Please share them below!

*Please note that the embedded links that reference Thomas.gov may not link to the page cited because the website deletes searches thirty minutes after creation.  To find out more about VAWA, please visit THOMAS (The Library of Congress) at www.thomas.gov, select search by “Bill Number”, and enter S.1925 into the search engine.   From there, all of the information regarding the legislation referenced in this post can be accessed.  Thank you!

 

Supporting the Campaign for Sexual Assault Victims at ASU February 27, 2012

Filed under: rape,sexual assault — Women's Studies Intern @ 5:15 pm
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Our volunteers do amazing things to impact many different communities outside of the great work they do here at FVPC.  Meredith Nisbet, one of our Hotline Advocates and a student at UNC, was spurred to action following the re-enrollment of two football players at Appalachian State University after they were convicted of raping two female students.  Two additional football players and another student were convicted of lesser crimes associated with the rapes and were reinstated immediately.  Meredith, along with another UNC student, Rosemary Johnson, and two students at ASU, Kaylynn Prough and Annie Hegar, created an online petition through Change.org and began the campaign to support the survivors on their quest for justice and force Appalachian State’s administration to address this issue.

The details of the incidents can be found on the petition’s webpage.  During the Spring 2011 semester, four Appalachian State football players and an additional friend raped a young woman in succession.  Two of the students were charged with rape.  During the Fall 2011 semester, two of those five men forcibly raped yet another female student.  When the two survivors came forward to report the crimes, they were “treated as heretics”.  Following cases in the student court, two players were found guilty of rape and sentenced to eight semesters suspension.  However, despite this sanction, they were reinstated in time for next year’s football season.  The other three students were found guilty of lesser charges and received no serious consequences.  The two survivors were not notified that their perpetrators were re-enrolled in school and back on campus, leaving them unguarded.

Meredith believes that “there seems to be a lot of victim-blaming occurring, perpetuating a rape culture in which people tend to question the victims rather than the perpetrators – rape and sexual assault are…crimes in which the victim becomes the accused, and it’s simply not fair.”

The petition states that “Reinstating a student found guilty of rape to the football team, failing to notify the victims of their perpetrators’ presence on campus, and failing to notify the student body of these occurrences only perpetuates rape culture and creates an environment that is unsafe for students. How many other ‘unspecified university issue(s)’ have we allowed to pass with no semblance of justice to be seen? How many more will we allow?”

The petition currently has 839 signatures, but more are needed in order to send a message to ASU’s administration and campus community.  If you would like to support this campaign, the Change.org petition can be found here.  After you sign the petition, there is an option to share the link on Facebook.  You can also e-mail the link to friends and family members.  If you support this campaign, please consider signing the petition and spreading the word so that the members of the Appalachian State University community can become aware of the details of these cases and the administration can address their decisions regarding the handling of the cases and the punishments.  It is important that ASU and other college campuses learn of these cases and the issues surrounding them so that a message can be sent that the mistreatment of sexual assault cases is not fair and will not be tolerated.

 

Lucky February 20, 2012

I was directed to a blog* recently, to read a post about unwanted/undesired touching. The writer of the blog, Molly, was reflecting on a question asked on a health history form at her doctor’s office. On the form amid a list of items which you were expected to check if you had experienced, was this item: “ANY unwanted/undesired physical or sexual touching.” Molly almost skipped over the item not checking it, moving on. But she stopped to dwell on the statement and realized she had experienced plenty of unwanted/undesired physical or sexual touching in her life. She recalled moments such as:

  • being forcefully kissed in a club
  • having a person stand too close to her
  • feeling the pressure of hard penises against her as she maneuvered a club
  • people physically moving her rather than asking her to move
  • partners touching her sexually in ways they knew she didn’t like

All of these acts are things which you, just like Molly originally did, might be inclined to gloss over. Words like unwanted, undesired, and sexual when put together have come to mean rape, molestation, or sexual abuse.  If what a person has experienced does not fall into their idea of what rape, molestation or sexual abuse is, than as Molly says, you think “nothing has happened to me, really, right? I’m supposed to feel lucky, right, given that I’m a woman in a culture where horrible things very often happen to girls and women?” Where horrible things happen to boys and men too. You are inclined to write it off.  You have perhaps had bad experiences, but really you should be grateful because you did not have anything truly traumatic happen. You do not have a reason to check the box.

False.

Rape, molestation and sexual abuse are terrible things and no one should ever have to experience them. Perhaps you feel grateful that you have never experienced one of those events (if you haven’t) and I am not going to say that feeling is not natural or unjustified but I want us to consider where this feeling of gratefulness or relief or “luck” comes from.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines luck as “a force that brings good fortune or adversity,” “the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual,” and “favoring chance.” In these three definitions there is a complete lack of autonomy. Luck is driven by something a person has no control over. It’s a “force” or a “circumstance” or “chance.”  Which means you are just as likely to have good luck as you are to have bad luck. And that’s what people mean when they say lucky, right? You have good luck, as opposed to that person over there, who has bad luck. What Molly hints at, and what I believe, is that it is not okay that my personal safety, my body and my well-being are apparently left up to luck. And this social tendency to rank our experiences as “lucky” and “unlucky” have made us ignore our natural rights: the right to feel safe and to be a whole person.

A few years ago, I read Alice Sebold’s memoir about being raped. It is called Lucky.  Sebold was raped when she was a first year in college. Throughout her experience reporting the rape to pursuing charges to going through the trial for her rapist, she was told she was lucky many times. One reason she was deemed lucky is that the site where she was raped is the same site where another girl was murdered. Alice is therefore “lucky” because she was alive. I think this logic is problematic. There will always be a situation in which some point of experience will have been “worse” for someone else than it was for you. That does not make you “lucky.” Sebold did not feel lucky just because she was alive because she was living with the aftermath of being raped. Life shouldn’t be a competition where one person’s experience invalidates our own. Any moment in which you feel unsafe or uncomfortable is unacceptable. And our need to rank these invasions to our safety hierarchically only serves to silence, stigmatize, and prohibit change.

This need to rank experiences is an epidemic pervasive in our society. It is not just sexual assaults which are ranked, but everything. These rankings are accompanied by an unspoken meaning. Whose partner is cuter translates to who is a more worthy partner because the worthiest of course gets the most attractive. Whose class schedule is harder matters because the hardest schedule gets more of a right to complain when thing are bad, brag when grades are good, and make excuses when they do not meet other obligations. And then there are bigger problems the ones that go beyond person to person into individual to social. Such as I was touched inappropriately but it wasn’t rape so I shouldn’t say anything. My partner slapped me but there wasn’t a mark so it’s not really that bad. All of these justifications people make are unfair and invalidating. Society has built a hierarchy in which rape trumps a forced kiss and physical violence trumps intentional and repeated humiliation. It has been ingrained within us that if our experience is trumped than it is not worth mentioning. We are being whiny or over-reacting because in reality we are lucky, because nothing worse has happened.

I don’t want to live in that world. I don’t want to have to feel lucky when a bad thing happens just because something worse didn’t happen. That world stunts emotional growth. It causes individuals to minimize or deny their own feelings and to feel that they must accept the actions done to him/her. It causes us to overlook the basic, obvious truth: these bad things don’t have to happen. Committing violence is not innate behavior.  It is a learned behavior, which means it is something that people pick up in various ways through the socialization process. If we continue this “lucky” rhetoric, it implies that we, as a society cannot do anything to stop sexual violence. And we can.

One way we can start down that road is to stop buying into the hierarchies of experience. If a friend is telling you about a bad day, don’t cut them off to tell them how much worse yours was. If someone’s partner screamed at them and made them feel belittled, don’t brush it off and say “well, it could have been worse.” And conversely, remember that your feelings are valid. If whoever you share an experience with minimizes what to you was a significant event, go tell someone else. Find someone who will give you the support you deserve. Because you don’t need to feel “lucky.” If luck is the absence of assaults on our person, than why are we accepting anything less than everyone being lucky? Let’s stop accepting less. Remember: Your experiences are valid. Your emotions are important. And your safety matters. Don’t skip over the box just because the worst thing hasn’t happened to you.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts in the comment area below.

*The writer of the blog has asked that her blog not be linked.

 

“Sleeping With My Eyes Open” January 25, 2012

Filed under: domestic violence,rape — Women's Studies Intern @ 4:09 pm
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Slate Magazine is an online magazine that provides commentary on politics, news, and culture.  The publication includes a column called “Dear Prudence,” to which readers can submit letters to “Prudie” asking for advice on a variety of things.  On January 9, 2012 Prudence posted a video responding to a woman who identified herself as “Sleeping with My Eyes Open”.

The woman reaches out to Prudence for help and receives a shockingly close-minded and problematic response.  During the beginning of their marriage, the couple would often wake up in the middle of the night to have sex.  At first the sex was consensual, but then she spoke with her husband and made it clear that she wanted it to stop.  The sex continued.  Not only did the woman explicitly state that she did not consent to middle-of-the-night sex, she would also scream and try to push him off of her.  After questioning her husband’s actions and repeatedly asking him to stop, he responded that he “cannot control himself.”

Prudence’s response is distressing.  She calls the husband a creep, but his actions may not be his fault.  She advises the wife to take her husband to the doctor for a medical evaluation, because he might have a sleep disorder that is causing his actions.  Prudence even says “if it seems that he just enjoys forcing himself on you” then they need to see a marriage counselor as soon as possible if they do not want to end up divorced.  ForcingIf force is used to obtain sex, then it is not a consensual act; it is rape.  Prudence completely disregards the fact that this woman’s husband is raping her.  Whether other abusive aspects of a relationship are present are unknown.  Prudie doesn’t even suggest that the woman’s husband’s rape is being used to control or manipulate her.

Understanding consent is vital.

Consent is an agreement by all partners to engage in sexual contact of any kind.  It must be verbally expressed, and manipulation, force, or substances cannot be used to obtain consent.  The absence of “no” does not mean “yes”.

In “Sleeping with My Eyes Open’s” situation, she asked her husband on more than one occasion to stop having sex with her during the middle of the night.  The wife is unconscious and unable to consent during the middle of the night.  The wife screams and tries to push her husband off of her while he is having sex with her.  There are three layers of expressed non-consent.  Her husband does not have her consent; the sex that Prudence sees as a sleeping disorder is not a disorder, it is rape.  No matter how hard it is, we must identify sexual violence for what it is.  To minimize or ignore it is only allowing the perpetrator to hold more control.

Unfortunately, this story of intimate partner rape is all too common.  According to recent surveys completed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five women report having been raped in their lifetime.  Of those women, more than half were raped by an intimate partner.  Sexual violence should never be excused.  The survivor is never at fault.  Prudie’s response is extremely troubling.  The woman should have been referred to an advocacy agency, not a marriage counselor.

The woman reaching out for help from Prudence is not experiencing just a relationship problem.    Forced sex is never okay, no matter the type of relationship the perpetrator has with his/her victim.  If someone reaches out to you who is experiencing an issue in their relationship, stop to think about what is really going on.  Don’t be like Prudie.  Listen to the person, believe what she or he is saying, and do not feel like you cannot reach out for help if you don’t know exactly how to respond.  The employees and volunteers at Family Violence Prevention Center are trained to help.

Our Hotline Advocates are here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Whether you have questions, are looking for help, or just need an understanding voice to talk to, FVPC’s Hotline Advocates are always available to talk at (919)929-7122.

 

Rape in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo January 19, 2012

Filed under: gender norms,healthy relationships,rape — Jenny Edminson @ 2:30 am
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The new movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo based on the international best-selling book trilogy by Stieg Larson  opened to lukewarm reviews (here are a few- 1, 2, 3).  The movie, an American adaptation of the Swedish books and prior European movies, is directed by David Fincher and stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara as the two main characters. Emma Gray, of The Huffington Post, describes Mara’s character, Lisbeth Salander, as a “character that women love to love.” Despite this comment and the large woman fan base of the books, the American version of the book is having a difficult time getting women viewers interested, according to Vulture, an entertainment news site. There are many theories on why one of the prime demographics for the books is faltering when it comes to the movie version.

Lisbeth Salander is a 24 year old computer hacker with a violent past. Salander teams up with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) to solve a 40-year-old murder case.  One theory for why female fans are not in a hurry to see the movie is the movie’s graphic depictions of sexual violence. Most disturbing, perhaps, is a scene in which Salander is raped by her guardian.  While this event is a major point in the novels, reports indicate that the film does not endeavor to shield the offensive material from its viewers. In her article, Gray defends the movie, claiming the rape scene caused her to “burst into tears” and was “one of the most disturbing things [she’s] ever seen,” but ” it did not “glamorize rape” and did succeed in putting a “strong, complex woman on the big screen.” While I applaud the depiction of strong women in movies, it is harder for me to move past the rape scene as easily.

I have not seen the movie and until researching the movie for this blog post, I had no prior knowledge of it or the books. I only knew what I have seen in the trailers and read in articles.  In the three trailers I saw for the movie, only one even hinted that such a scene would be shown. The “hint” is an older man with  Salander in a bleak office forcefully turning her head to face him while a voice over suggests she “learn to be sociable”, starting with him, assumedly. Watching that moment, while unsettling, is very different than watching a scene in which Salander is raped. In the reviews mentioned above, Gray’s article is the only one which gives more than a three word phrase about the scene. While the movie is rated R, the lack of discussion and warning over the scene in which Salander is raped by her guardian–not a stranger or a lover but someone who is/was charged with caring for her– is very disturbing. You might wonder how a rape scene is any different from a graphic murder scene or an explicit sex scene.  That is a fair question. While there is more than one answer, what I want to talk about is desensitization.

There was a time when saying one curse word in a movie caused an uproar. Now, curse words litter almost every movie that comes out.  Violence used to be something people did not want to watch. Deaths in movies happened with one bullet shot and no blood, or just by collapsing. Now there are real-looking guns and extremely realistic wounds and violent actions. And most people don’t blink. Violence is so pervasive in our society that most people view it as white noise. Now, footage has to be especially gruesome for a violent movie scene to be noticed. The stakes continue to be raised.

Rape and all sexual violence should not be placed into the category of cursing and violence in movies. The more we are inundated with violent images, the more naturalized they become, the less we notice them. And the more we accept it as an inevitable part of life. Just as violence does not have to happen, even more so, sexual violence does not have to happen. It should not happen.

The lack of discussion over the rape scene in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, shows that desensitization toward sexual violence is happening. If it was truly shocking, more people would be talking about it. Sexual violence is seen as sad, tragic possibly, but an unfortunate circumstance committed by sick individuals, not a by-product of desensitization. It is tragic, but it’s more than something that happens, it’s something that our society allows which is committed by ordinary people. Sexual violence is not something people are born with a desire to commit, like domestic violence, it is a learned behavior. It is learned through the media, through social opinions on women and men deserve, through the idea that sexual dominance is the ultimate dominance, that violence is a way to secure what is “yours”.

It is the same with interpersonal violence. We see someone pushing their partner and write it off. We hear partners screaming at each other, but decide it’s just something couples do. We hear about one partner slapping another, but it was in the heat of the moment; they didn’t mean it. A person is raped but he/she invited the person in, they were having a good time; it wasn’t rape.  All of these excuses stem from an acceptance on some level of what is happening. One reason why this acceptance happens is because of the desensitization of  the actions; because we have seen or heard about people committing acts of  sexual violence or acts of interpersonal violence so much we feel it is a natural part of life. Movies are not the only way we become immune to atrocities happening around us, but it is one vivid and easily accessible way in which we do.

I have not seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so I will not comment on the quality of the movie and whether or not you should see it. But if you go, I want you to be aware that it has a graphic rape scene which may disturb you. I hope that it does disturb you. Follow Salander through her journey, which I read in reviews includes payback for her rapist, but also be aware of the majority of people who have experienced sexual violence do not get revenge or justice or any kind of action. Be conscious of  the fact that rape is not only something that happens in the movies, and do not let a movie depiction numb you to the real life ways in which the effects of sexual violence live on, and the ways in which you can act to help change the rape-prone culture in which we live.

Some ways to help include never excusing any act of violence whether it be within a relationship or not.  Always ask consent before engaging in sexual acts and understand that consent is permission freely given and is not a one -time deal. Be an advocate for survivors of  interpersonal violence and/or sexual violence. One way to be an advocate for survivors is by volunteering with FVPC, click here.

 

Possible Improvement in Judicial Process for Domestic Violence Cases on Indian Reservations September 28, 2011

The 19th annual Four Corners Indian Country Conference on September 13-15, 2011 represented an open dialogue and hope for progress related to victims’ assistance on Native American Indian reservations in Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

Interpersonal violence is experienced at more elevated levels on reservations than in the general population, and the Department of Justice has reported that Native American women in particular experience violence at an extremely elevated rate – three and a half times more than any other population in the United States. And when we consider the number of sexual assaults and incidences of domestic violence that are unreported [60% according to the DOJ] this number could be much higher. Prosecution is a problem on reservations, as tribes are sovereign nations and determining the jurisdiction for intimate partner violence and sexual assault cases can be complex.

US Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli spoke at the conference on some recent Department of Justice efforts to improve the legal challenges of addressing violence, and in particular domestic violence, on reservations. The pending legislation would do three things:

  1. It would give trial law enforcement more ability to prosecute crimes that happen on reservations regardless of the perpetrator’s membership in the tribe.  Currently, tribal law enforcement officers have difficulty prosecuting non-Native American offenders, even in cases of domestic violence. The legislation would also ensure that tribal law enforcement has the right to enforce protective orders on both members and non-members of Native American tribes.
  2. The new DOJ laws would provide harsher federal punishments to perpetrators of violent crime within reservations. Since the 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act, the most severe punishment that can be imposed by native courts is one year in jail or a $5,000 fine, which is a far less significant penalty than most perpetrators receive for convictions outside of the tribal judicial system.
  3. $100 million has also been earmarked by the DOJ for more attorneys, investigators and victim advocates on reservations. Indian Country reported that a DOJ grant that provided more domestic violence personnel resources to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana led to the first domestic violence convictions on the reservation – in only 6 months, 169 domestic assault complaints were filed, and 147 of them have pending court action.

These possible progressive changes to the prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault on reservations would also hit close to home as North Carolina is home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

You can contact the Department of Justice to express your support for the pending legislation and budget increases by emailing AskDOJ@usdoj.gov or by calling the Attorney General’s public comment line at (202) 353-1555.