On May 5, we will observe the Senate-designated National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. This observance shines a light on the high rates of homicides of American Indian and Alaska Native women, as well as other forms of violence, including sex trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault, affecting Native communities throughout the United States.
According to the FBI, approximately 75 percent of the crimes investigated in Indian Country involve homicide, rape, violent assaults, or child abuse. We know from visiting with Native communities across the country and working with Tribal law enforcement that lethal crimes of domestic and sexual violence and trafficking are interrelated. This reinforces the critical need for sustained support for victim services, as well as aggressive efforts to hold offenders accountable before the violence escalates. The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is proud to share that, with the full support of President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, we are actively working with Tribal governments, law enforcement, and advocates to ensure a robust response to both victims and abusers.
Native advocates and Tribal leaders tell us that an important dimension of the disappearance of women and girls in their communities is their vulnerability to human trafficking. Enhancing federal law enforcement and criminal justice responses to sex trafficking is a Department of Justice priority. We began 2018 with the first national conference on sex trafficking in Indian Country: “Strengthening Sovereign Responses to Sex Trafficking in Indian Country.” Held on the land of our partners, the Agua Caliente Tribe of California, this summit created opportunities for networking, relationship building, and sharing critical knowledge that Tribes need to shape and inform their sovereign response to sex trafficking in American Indian and Alaska Native Communities.
In addition to the lessons learned from the summit, OVW is developing new strategies to address sex trafficking affecting American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. Strategies include: addressing the training needs of tribal law enforcement and casino security personnel with a focus on the link between sex trafficking and missing and murdered indigenous women and girls; expanding the Department’s Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information for both civil and criminal purposes; and sharing data on the death and disappearance of Native women and girls through a national system called the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS), which is a free, publicly available, centralized repository and resource center for missing persons and unidentified decedent records.
The United States has a special government-to-government relationship with all 573 federally recognized American Indian Tribes and Alaskan Native Villages, and the Department of Justice has a unique and significant role in carrying out this trust relationship. For example, Federal prosecutors have primary criminal jurisdiction for 70 million acres of Tribal lands, spanning 200 Indian country territories. Tackling the epidemic of missing and murdered Native women and girls is an imperative issue that demands mutual respect and collaboration in working together with Tribal nations. Let us all be reminded on May 5th of the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and continue developing our working relationships and strategies to combat these horrific crimes.