Law Would Allow Tribe To Prosecute Non-Cherokee Domestic Violence Suspects
TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma - A bill signed into law a year ago will give local tribes the ability to prosecute non-Cherokee domestic violence suspects.
The Cherokee Nation is one of the first Oklahoma American Indian tribes to join a pilot program allowing them to prosecute these types of domestic violence cases.
Right now, the Cherokee Nation can't do anything when a Cherokee citizen is the victim of domestic violence and her attacker isn't a citizen.
Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act a year ago. A provision in the law gives tribes the ability to hold suspected non-American Indian attackers accountable in local tribal courts.
Most tribes won't be able to prosecute these cases until 2015.
The goal is for prosecutors to learn from each other as they start to charge non-citizens with those types of domestic violence crimes.
Three other tribes outside of the state are also a part of the pilot program.
The Cherokee Nation is awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before it can begin filing charges.
"We're doing everything we can to be able to implement this change," Cherokee Nation Assistant Attorney General Nikki Baker Limore said. "It's going to make a big difference. I think we'll see increased reporting, and with increased reporting we are going to have citizens that are safer."
Cynthia Whitehorn, a Chippewa-Creek, says she lived with an abusive husband. She's says the culture of not reporting abuse has changed over the years.
"Most of the mental torture is 10 times worse than the physical," she said. "...And most of the time, people are closed mouth about it because it is embarassing. To actually admit, like myself, that I am a victim of domestic violence, it's very degrading."
The Department of Justice says American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races, and one in three Indian women reported being raped during their lifetime.
It's because of that statistic, the Cherokee Nation Attorney General's Office is making it a top priority to prosecute domestic violence crimes.