This week, Donald Trump signed an executive order creating a task force to combat the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women. However, the move comes with a giant dose of hypocrisy as the GOP is also making it more difficult to put abusers behind bars.
The task force, coined Operation Lady Justice, aims to establish coordinated partnerships between tribal and federal law enforcement, improve safety within Native American communities, revitalize the federal databases that track data on missing indigenous women, and boost public awareness of the epidemic.
Trump alleges that his executive order will “leverage every resource we have to bring safety to our tribal communities, and we will not waiver in this mission.”
For once, his statement is worth agreeing to as this mission is indisputably an important one.
Native American women face disproportionately high rates of domestic violence and murder compared to their white counterparts. According to the Department of Justice, women in some tribal communities are 10 times more likely to be murdered than the national average. At least 1.5 million Native American women experience violence in their lifetime. Half have suffered from sexual or intimate partner violence. And thousands of others simply disappear, never to be heard from again.
Despite such alarming statistics, the response for decades has been indifference and underreporting. (A DOJ study from 2016, for example, found that only 116 out of 5,712 reports of missing native women and girls were actually logged in the federal database.)
That’s why it’s such a shame that, when it finally seems that some meaningful action is being taken on the behalf of indigenous women, it’s diluted by the dismissive actions of the Republican senate.
Amid the announcement of Operation Lady Justice, the GOP senate proposed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a 1994 law that expired in 2018, to ostensibly protect survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
The bill’s sponsor, Iowa Republican Senator Jodi Ernst, alleges that the bill “provides desperately needed resources for programs that tackle domestic and sexual abuse in our communities.”
However, she neglects to mention that, if adopted, the bill would weaken protections for Native American women and crush tribal sovereignty.
The bill would essentially revoke tribal communities’ authority when prosecuting crimes committed on their land by a non-Native American party. It would, instead, give abusers a way to avoid prosecution by a federal court, and would give convicted abusers the right to sue the tribe if they felt their civil rights were violated. Given that more than half of Native Americans marry non-natives, this proposal is set to endanger a large number of indigenous women. (Though whether they move off the reservation may determine whether the tribe has jurisdiction over any intimate partner violence that occurs.)
Deborah Parker, a board member of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, noted that,
“It’s supporting perpetrators more than the victim. It’s allowing perpetrators more ways to get out of their crime… if we have well-supported court systems criminals will know. They will know not to come on our reservations and harm our women.”
For his part, Trump argues that Operation Lady Justice, which he alleges “should’ve been done a long time ago,” is something that the GOP is taking “very seriously.”
And it absolutely should be. But, yet again, it appears that the GOP is going against their word and concurrently treating the issue as anything but.
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Feature photo by @taylorruecker
Michelle Vincent is a project manager and freelance writer. She enjoys traveling, is worried she won’t love her future children as much as she loves her dogs, and is actively recruiting podcast recommendations.