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The Violence Against Women Act and tribal land issues

The United States Senate recently reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark federal law aimed at protecting women from domestic violence. However, the legislation has stalled in the House, which has led some to criticize lawmakers for failing to pass this important law.

However, the House is grappling with an important issue that could improve the law. Currently the Act fails to address an important part of the population: Native American women who face domestic violence on tribal land.

Native women who are married to non-Indians and live on reservations can find themselves in a desperate and dangerous situation if the marriage turns violent. Tribal police are unable to prosecute non-Native abusers but municipal law enforcement agencies can't touch anyone who lives on a reservation.

The House is considering an addition to the bill that would allow Native police forces to pursue and try non-Natives who live on tribal land. This would help Native women seek appropriate remedies for domestic violence, but some have raised concerns about its constitutionality.

If you are involved in a relationship where you are being harassed, threatened or abused by a family member or domestic partner, it can be difficult to know where to turn. Often victims are so intimidated by their abusers that they are afraid to seek help lest they face retaliation. However, it is important to seek help so you can extricate yourself from the situation. Consider contacting a family law attorney with experience in matters of domestic violence.

Source: The New York Times, "Measure to Protect Women Stuck on Tribal Land Issue," Jonathan Weisman, Feb. 10, 2013

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