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Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio Delivers Keynote Address at 2018 Violence Against Women Tribal Consultation


Sioux, SD
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning, and thank you Katie Sullivan for that kind introduction.  We are so fortunate to have Katie at DOJ; she is a talented and tenacious public servant who is making a real difference in the lives of women across the nation.  She is supported by an incredible team at the Office on Violence Against Women, and we are thankful for their service, as well.  Thanks to Ron Parsons, our U.S. Attorney here in South Dakota, for his leadership and for the warm welcome he and his office provided yesterday.  The District of South Dakota is proud of and grateful for its relationship with tribal governments and their joint efforts to keep their communities safe. And, looking beyond DOJ, the fight to stop violence against women is supported by two critical federal partners who are in attendance today: the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of the Interior.  We appreciate their work and their presence here.

We are honored and grateful to be here with you for this government-to-government consultation.  Please allow me to extend warm greetings to the many leaders of tribal nations, public safety officials, victim advocates, and all of those in attendance who share a dedication to stopping violence against women in our communities.  We know that many of you traveled great distances, and cleared very busy schedules, to be here today.   The Department of Justice appreciates your commitment to addressing violence against women in your tribal nations.

Thank you to Vice-President Black and the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association for hosting our 13th Annual Government-to-Government Violence Against Women Tribal Consultation.  

Thank you to Ms. Roxanne Sazue for providing the blessing over our proceedings; to Mr. Randy Bernard for leading the posting of our colors; to Mr. Allen Hare and “Rising Hail” for the honoring of song and drum; and to Ms. Carmen O’Leary and the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains for conducting the beautiful and touching Shawl Ceremony.


We gather together for this consultation to address a terrible crisis. Domestic violence and sexual assault are crimes that affect every community, but, tragically, Native women face higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, and domestic violence homicide than almost any other group.  A 2016 National Institute for Justice study concluded that more than half of all Native women have experienced sexual violence and physical violence by an intimate partner.  All too often, these instances of violence are part of an escalating cycle, culminating in alarming homicide rates for Native women. 

Many in attendance today are wearing red to commemorate, honor, and raise awareness about missing and murdered Native women.  Their voices have been silenced, but their memory should serve as a call to action. These women deserve to be honored and remembered, but they also deserve more: they deserve action.

The Department of Justice is resolute in its commitment to helping ameliorate this crisis.  We do so in two principal ways.  First, our prosecutors are working every day to bring domestic violence offenders to justice.  Second, through our grant programs, we are helping victims with a full range of services and support.  Let me say a little more about both efforts.


Effective, widespread, and timely prosecutions are critical to stopping domestic violence.   Early intervention that interrupts or deters a pattern of escalating violence is the key to avoiding future, and sometimes deadly, violence.  We know from prior consultations that tribal leaders are focused on the need for robust prosecutions.  The Department of Justice has heard your concerns, and Attorney General Sessions and many others at the Department have made it a priority to reduce violent crime and to address challenging public-safety issues such as the trafficking of Native American girls.  Moreover, the Department has prosecuted an increasing number of habitual offenders in Indian country under a federal statute enacted in 2005, which focuses on domestic assaults by offenders with at least two prior convictions for any domestic assault in a federal, state, or tribal court.

One of the primary challenges in this area is ensuring that we have enough prosecutors to hold perpetrators accountable.  To that end, the Department’s Office on Violence Against Women is funding Tribal Special United States Attorneys (known as Tribal SAUSAs).  These prosecutors are able to bring cases in both tribal and federal courts, and their addition to our law enforcement community is meant to help ensure that cases do not fall through the cracks.  Every single woman who has been a victim of domestic or sexual violence deserves to have her assailant brought to justice.

In OVW’s pilot project, Tribal SAUSAs reported a wide range of successes, including: prosecution of cases that otherwise would not have been brought; increased trust and better relationships among tribal law enforcement, victim services, victims, and the participating United States Attorney’s Office; and greater accountability for violence-against-women-related crimes in Indian country.  Tribal SAUSAs have also been able to serve as advocates for their tribe’s perspectives and needs, which helps the tribe have more input into successful prosecutions.

One example of the pilot project’s success occurred in the District of New Mexico, where the Tribal SAUSA brought federal charges against an assailant who had two prior tribal convictions for domestic violence.  The defendant was sentenced to forty months in federal prison under the aforementioned federal statute specifically addressing habitual domestic violence offenders in Indian country. 

Building on successes like these is critical to our efforts to stop domestic violence against Native women, and that’s why I am so pleased to announce that OVW is re-launching the Tribal SAUSA Project with improvements based on feedback from Tribes and U.S. Attorneys.  OVW plans to use a fellowship model to help attract qualified attorneys who will make a three-year commitment to prosecute crimes of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking in both tribal and federal courts.  Sex trafficking cases that involve one of these four crimes also may be prosecuted by the Tribal SAUSA under the grant.  Special training for the Tribal SAUSA’s will be provided through the National Advocacy Center’s National Indian Country Training Initiative.

In addition to the Tribal SAUSA relaunch, the Department is also expanding the Tribal Access Program (TAP) for National Crime Information in fiscal year 2018.  TAP provides federally-recognized tribes access to national crime information databases for both civil and criminal purposes.  By the end of fiscal year 2018, 47 tribes will be in the program, which also provides training to support tribal government needs.  The Department is currently soliciting tribes that are interested in participating in the fiscal year 2019 TAP deployment.  Tribes may apply through October 1, 2018, and will be notified shortly thereafter if they are selected to participate.

Victim Services

As I mentioned, effective law enforcement is one important tool in addressing violence against Native women.  The other tool is victim services.  We have heard from you about the dire need for these services.  Providing funding to address that need is a primary focus of OVW.  

For example, OVW’s Tribal Governments Program enhances the ability of tribes to respond to violent crimes against Indian women, improve victim safety, and develop education and prevention strategies.  By the end of September, OVW will award approximately $55 million to Tribes and tribal nonprofit organizations to respond to the crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, and sex trafficking in Indian Country.  These funds will be awarded by September 30 through Violence Against Women Act programs that are specific to tribes, including Grants to Tribal Governments to Exercise Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction.

At the 2017 consultation and at prior consultations, many tribal leaders testified about the importance of having funds set aside for tribes under the Victims of Crime Act.  In March 2018, the President signed the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act into law.  This act created a 3% tribal set-aside from the $4.4 billion available through the Crime Victims Fund receipts, and directed the Department to use the funding from the set aside to make awards to Indian tribes to improve services for victims of crime.  By September 30, 2018, the Department anticipates making up to $110 million in grant awards to eligible tribes, tribal consortia, and tribal designees under the Tribal Set-Aside Program to support a wide-range of services for victims of crime.  

President Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2019 goes even further.  It proposes a 5% tribal assistance set-aside in the Crime Victims Fund.  This is just one of many ways that this Administration is addressing the needs of tribal communities. 

These funds are making a difference.  For example, in some tribal communities, law enforcement may be hours or days away.  Reaching the hospital might require using a boat or plane.  There may be no safe shelter available, or no services that respond with cultural sensitivity to Native American victims.  The Suquamish Tribe reported that OVW funds “have been used to help with transportation barriers, childcare struggles, basic needs such as food, clothing and toiletries and, more importantly, hope for over 30 new clients over the past six months.”  The tribe has said, “we are incredibly grateful for the support this funding provides and are excited about what the future holds for our program.”

 Alaska Tribal Needs

In addition to funding prosecution and victim services across all Tribes, the Department is also focused on responding to Tribe-specific needs and concerns. Tribal leaders from Alaska made a number of recommendations at the 2017 consultation designed to address the extraordinary barriers they face in providing services for victims and adequate law enforcement responses to domestic and sexual violence. These challenges include the absence of law enforcement in remote Native villages, the lack of village-based shelter and advocacy services, and limited or no access to sexual assault forensic exams.

OVW has taken a number of steps to enhance the capacity of Alaska tribes to respond to domestic and sexual violence in their communities.  With funding from OVW, the Southwest Center for Law and Policy opened an office in Anchorage to increase access to sexual assault medical forensic exams in Alaska Native communities, as well as to provide them with resources available through the National Indian Country Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault.

At past tribal consultations, many tribal leaders have testified that the disappearance and deaths of American Indian and Alaska Native women are not taken seriously enough, and that increased awareness and a stronger law enforcement response are critical to saving Native women’s lives.  The Department requested testimony from tribal leaders on how to evaluate the scope and nature of human trafficking of American Indians and Alaska Natives and what kinds of training and technical assistance are needed to respond effectively.

The Department supports raising awareness of these issues and addressing the underlying reasons that Native women and children go missing, including strengthening law enforcement and community-based responses to domestic violence and sex trafficking.  In particular, OVW funds training and technical assistance on identifying trafficking cases and ensuring that victims receive needed services.  OVW solicited proposals in fiscal year 2018 to provide basic and advanced training for tribal service providers and justice-system personnel on sex trafficking, including its intersection with the problem of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and youth. 

The Department’s National Institute of Justice remains committed to funding research and evaluation in this area and is seeking perspectives on human trafficking in American Indian and Alaska Native communities from respondents as part of its National Baseline Study. 


Our purpose at this consultation is to hear from you, so with that let me close.  On behalf of the Department of Justice, it is my sincere honor to share with you some of the recent successes we’ve achieved together, and to request your input on priorities that should guide our work in the coming year.  Let us recommit ourselves to using every available tool we can to address the devastating rates of violence against women in Indian country.  Thank you for working in partnership with us as we enhance the safety of American Indian and Alaska Native women.  I look forward to hearing from you during today’s consultation.  

Indian Country Law and Justice
Violent Crime
Updated August 21, 2018