The following post appears courtesy of the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana.
Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana, Michael W. Cotter, announced the creation of a new initiative, the Native Shield Initiative, in partnership with tribal and county authorities in Montana. The initiative is designed to help protect Indian women from physical and sexual violence.
As Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli testified this month to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs:
"Violence against Native women has reached epidemic rates. One regional survey conducted by University of Oklahoma researchers showed that nearly three out of five Native American women had been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners. According to a nationwide survey funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), one third of all American Indian women will be raped during their lifetimes. And an NIJ-funded analysis of death certificates found that, on some reservations, Native women are murdered at a rate more than ten times the national average. Tribal leaders, police officers and prosecutors tell us of an all-too-familiar pattern of escalating violence that goes unaddressed, with beating after beating, each more severe than the last, ultimately leading to death or severe physical injury. Something must be done to address this cycle of violence."
That’s why the Department of Justice has proposed legislation and supported the efforts of Congress to close major legal gaps, involving tribal criminal jurisdiction, tribal civil jurisdiction and federal criminal offenses.
U.S. Attorney’s Offices with Indian country jurisdiction know that victims cannot afford to wait for new laws or more resources to come to the rescue. Each day, U.S. Attorneys are using existing federal laws to address violence against Indian women and to arrest the pattern of escalation in domestic assaults that too often leads to serious injury or death.
Montana’s new initiative is designed to use existing federal statutes and jurisdiction to prosecute misdemeanor domestic assaults committed by a non-Indian perpetrator against an Indian victim. The Initiative also promotes prosecutions of habitual domestic violence offenders under 18 U.S.C. § 117, which can lead to substantial sentences in federal prison if a defendant already has at least two prior federal, state, or tribal convictions for an assault, sexual abuse or serious violent felony committed against a spouse or intimate partner.
U.S. Attorney Michael W. Cotter announced the Native Shield Initiative, saying:
"When law enforcement entities work together we can hold criminals accountable and assure that no perpetrator can hide from the law."
In support of the Native Shield Initiative, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will provide training to tribal and county law enforcement partners on how to submit misdemeanor domestic violence cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the investigation and prosecution of crimes against women, and how collaborative agreements between tribal and county law enforcement may also help protect Indian women from violence. Montana’s Native Shield Initiative is one example of many ongoing efforts by U.S. Attorneys Offices around the country to deploy existing federal laws, as well as law enforcement resources, coordination, and training to try and reduce the unacceptable level of violence against women in Indian country.