Lawmakers are finally starting to pay attention to the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women

Lawmakers are moving to pass legislation that would create clearer systems of data collection and response in cases of MMIW.

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Image credit: Lorie Shaull/flickr

As the public becomes more aware of the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW), lawmakers are being pressured into taking action.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing this month to review five bipartisan measures that focus on dealing with the violence against Native American women, how it is reported, and federal and law enforcement response.

The proposed legislation calls for law enforcement to submit annual reports to Congress to give lawmakers better data, new standards for law enforcement’s response to missing person reports on tribal lands, expanded coordination among federal agencies in charge of public safety on tribal lands, and expansion of tribes’ ability to prosecute non-Native Americans in sex assault cases and crimes against law enforcement and children.

One of the five bills, Savanna’s Act, would increase tribal law enforcement’s access to criminal databases, increase data collection on missing person cases and set new guidelines for law enforcement’s response to reports of missing Native Americans.

Some Democratic lawmakers expressed frustration over the lack of care and response. According to the Billings Gazette, two officials arrived at the hearing “unprepared to take concrete positions on a slate of legislation.”

“It is only fair to question the sincerity of claims to a ‘renewed commitment,'” U.S. Sen. Tom Udall( D-New Mexico).

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State Rep. Mickey Dollens has requested an interim study to address which brand of local government would respond when an indigenous woman is murdered or missing. The study would also create a new system for data collection in MMIW cases.

“This is an issue that was brought to my attention by a constituent,” Dollens said. “There seems to be a disconnect between tribal, municipal, county and state law enforcement agencies regarding how these cases should be handled. This study is intended to help close that disconnect and hopefully shed some light on how we can better serve the native community.”

A national movement began over the last year to spread awareness of the high rates of violence against indigenous women. Indigenous women have the highest rates of rape and assault than any other group. On some reservations, indigenous women are murdered at more than ten times the national average, according to the Indian Law Resource Center. The absence of standardized reporting remains a huge obstacle in case follow up and true understanding of the issue.

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