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King votes against bill to help protect Native Americans from rape
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, last week voted against a bill making it easier for non-natives who commit rape and other crimes on Native American tribal lands to be prosecuted.
The Tribal Law and Order Act was passed as an amendment to HR 725 by a vote of 326-92. King was the lone member of Iowa’s congressional delegation to oppose the measure.
A 2007 study by Amnesty International found that one in three Native American women will be raped at some point in their lives, a rate that is more than double that for non-native women. More than 86 percent of rapes against Native American women are carried out by non-native men, most of them white, according to the Justice Department.
In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that tribal governments have no criminal jurisdiction over non-natives. When a crime was committed, tribal police and their local, state and federal counterparts had to hash out whether the suspect was a Native American or not. These sorts of jurisdictional problems made it difficult for non-natives to stand trial for their crimes. It also discouraged rape victims to step forward out of fear their attacker would never be prosecuted.
The bill passed by Congress last week aims to clear up those issues by improving coordination between tribal and federal officials in order to prosecute non-native rape suspects and provide assistance to rape victims.
“This historic, bi-partisan legislation addresses long-overlooked human rights abuses in Indian Country. It is an important effort to tackle major challenges that allow crimes against Native American and Alaska Native peoples to flourish,” Larry Cox, executive director for Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.
“When victims know that their perpetrators will be held accountable for their behavior, they will be more likely to report crimes,” said Sarah Deer, assistant professor at William Mitchell College of Law and a consultant for Amnesty International’s 2007 report. “Empowering tribal law enforcement personnel to protect their communities is the key.”
King voted “no” along with 91 other Republicans. Some questioned the price tag of the amendment: $1.1 billion for five years and $380 million thereafter. King’s spokesman did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
The bill has already passed the Senate, and President Barack Obama is expected to soon sign the legislation into law.