The Violence Against Women Act is a United States federal law that provides money toward investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. It recently was reauthorized by the Senate and House and signed by President Barack Obama in early March. The law makes it possible for tribes to exercise their sovereign power to investigate, prosecute, convict and sentence both Indians and non-Indians who assault Indian spouses or dating partners or violate a protection order in Indian country. The reauthorized act responds to a 1978 Supreme Court ruling that prevented tribal governments from exercising criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians.
Recently, Tom Heffelfinger, along with Tina Olson, co-director of Mending the Sacred Hoop, discussed on MPR whether the passage of this act would be a first step in addressing the often-overlooked problem of violence against women on tribal reservations. Supporters feel this bill is a good first step in addressing a decades-old problem and will provide women currently living on reservations more support in the tribal justice system.
Tom Heffelfinger is a former U.S. attorney in Minnesota and has been responsible for the development and implementation of a wide range of policies related to public safety in Indian Country.