President Obama signs the Tribal Law and Order Act into Law. Photo from Whitehouse.gov
Many people (including yours truly) have been lauding the recently passed Tribal Law and Order Act for the steps it takes towards solving the sexual assault crisis on Indian Land. An article posted today to the Social Sciences Resource Network by Suzianne D. Painter-Thorne begs us to take a second look. Painter-Thorne lucidly argues that the TLOA does not go far enough in changing the basic jurisdictional "knot" that has caused the law enforcement problems on Indian land. She writes that the crisis will continue because
Ultimately, the TLOA perpetuates a broken jurisdictional scheme by continuing to vest lawI brought news of the TLOA to you regarding the pandemic of sexual assault on Indian land. One in three Native women will be sexually assaulted in her life time, compared to one in four non-Natives. In 2007, NPR covered this story, an example of how the jurisdictional knot that Painter-Thorne's article addresses, results in a lack of justice for Native women. In the story, which Painter-Thorne's article opens with, the victim of a brutal rape is questioned by the FBI, gives a statement, identifies her assailants and witnesses, and then succumbs to her injuries. Her case is never investigated. No one even interviewed the named witnesses or interrogated the named assailants. Why? A jurisdictional clustermug.
enforcement responsibility in the hands of remote federal officials who
have proven unlikely to investigate criminal complaints, to arrest suspects,
or to prosecute offenders.
According to Painter-Thorne's article, entitled "Tangled Up in Knots: How Continued Federal Jurisdiction Over Sexual Predators on Indian Reservations Hobbles Effective Law Enforcement to the Detriment of Indian Women" the TLOA does not take any steps towards addressing this problem.
One of the more disturbing reasons she presents regarding federal officials' tendency to not follow through on investigations is:
Off the record, federal law-enforcement officials admit that U.S.Painter-Thorne goes on to criticize the provisions of the Act that supposedly create incentives for federal officials to investigate crimes on Indian land, and the liaison system set up by the bill as poor substitutes for locally based law enforcement and jurisdiction. She points out that evidence sharing is made even more convoluted by the Act. She concludes that this is not only an issue of sovereignty, as has often been argued, but that
attorneys view prosecution of reservation crime as a waste of prosecution
resources. Many simply find sexual assault cases insignificant compared
to their usual cases involving terrorism, organized crime, drug offenses,
and racketeering. According to former U.S. Attorney Margaret Chaira,
federal attorneys often balk at taking sexual assault cases, complaining that
they “did not sign up for this,” but instead had planned to handle whitecollar
crime, conspiracy, and drug cases.
local control of law enforcement makes practical sense and isYou can read the full article here: "Tangled Up in Knots: How Continued Federal Jurisdiction Over Sexual Predators on Indian Reservations Hobbles Effective Law Enforcement to the Detriment of Indian Women"
more likely to repair the broken tribal law enforcement system by placing
responsibility for policing Indian communities in the hands of those most
accountable to their communities.
While it is clear that the Tribal Law and Order Act is a step in the right direction, it is only ONE step.