Consequently, tribal lands have become safe havens for sexual predators, who can commit their offenses with little fear of prosecution. As Fort Peck Tribal Chairman A.T. “Rusty” Stafne explained, “Our people are afraid because there are persons committing crimes against us at night and in broad daylight....We have criminals that are simply unafraid of prosecution.” Indeed, “[t]o a sexual predator, the failure to prosecute sex crimes against American Indian women is an invitation to prey with impunity.”
Congress has responded to the epidemic of reservation crime with the Tribal Law and Order Act27 (TLOA). But, as this article explains, the TLOA is fundamentally flawed, and will likely do little to address the underlying impediment to effective tribal law enforcement because it leaves the prevailing jurisdictional confusion in place. Instead, I argue that tribal governments will be able to adequately safeguard their citizens only if Congress expands tribal jurisdiction to permit tribes to arrest and prosecute all those who victimize tribal citizens. Part I discusses the legal barriers that leave reservations and Indian women open to sexual predators who have little fear of prosecution. Part II discusses the TLOA’s provisions to improve tribal law enforcement. Part III concludes that the TLOA does not go far enough to protect Indian women victimized by sexual assault. This article proposes instead that tribes need local control over law enforcement to effectively safeguard their citizens. For too long, tribes have been left powerless to defend their own people against predators who enter reservation lands and commit unspeakable violence against tribal citizens. At the heart of sovereignty is the responsibility of government to protect its citizens. It is time to permit tribes to rise to this responsibility.
Suzianne D. Painter-Thorne, Tangled Up in Knots: How Continued Federal Jurisdiction over Sexual Predators on Indian Reservations Hobbles Effective Law Enforcement to the Detriment of Indian Women, 41 N.M. L. Rev. 239 (2011).