As Irin Carmon explains in a must read piece at Salon, Native American reservations are virtually law-free zones for women victimized by non-Indian rapists. Eighty percent of Native American rape survivors were attacked by non-Indians, and these crimes are currently beyond the reach of tribal authorities. Meanwhile, federal officials have the theoretical power to prosecute sexual assaults on reservations, but they lack the resources to do so. The result is that many abusers quickly learn they are free to attack women without consequence:
“We have serial rapists on the reservation — that are non-Indian — because they know they can get away with it,” said Charon Asetoyer, executive director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center in Lake Andes, S.D. “Many of these cases just get dropped. Nothing happens. And they know they’re free to hurt again.” . . .
Overall, American Indians are two and a half times likelier to be victims of violent crime than the general population, according to the Department of Justice. But a 2010 report by the General Accounting Office found that there is an unusually high rate of refusals to prosecute by U.S. attorneys, who “declined to prosecute 46 percent of assault matters and 67 percent of sexual abuse and related matters.” The report noted that violent crimes actually had a higher rate of declination, possibly because the evidence was harder to come by.
A major step towards solving this problem is the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support last April. Among other things, this bill would restore tribal authorities’ ability to prosecute non-Indians who commit domestic violence against the members of their tribe. According to the Census Bureau, 39 percent of Native women are subject to domestic violence at least once. Many of these incidents involve rape.
In the House several top Republicans, including members of the House Leadership, proposed a compromise bill that would extend these protections to Native domestic violence victims while allowing defendants to remove their case to federal court. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), however, reportedly refuses to accept any protections for Native women that would expand tribal jurisdiction. As a result, there is a very real danger that Cantor will kill the bill by simply waiting out the clock until the new Congress is sworn in.
In the immediate aftermath of the Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock debacles, one would think Cantor would be willing stop standing on the side of rapists for purely political reasons, even if he cannot actually bring himself to care about holding rapists accountable. Apparently, however, the #2 man in the House still stands with the likes of Akin and Mourdock.