Tulalip Tribes Vice Chair speaks out on Violence Against Women Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tulalip Tribes Vice Chair Deborah Parker joined U.S. Senators Patty Murray, Barbara Boxer and Amy Klobuchar in advocating the passage of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act on Wednesday, April 25, one day before the Senate passed the VAWA reauthorization bill by a vote of 68-31.

Parker and Murray, who represents Washington state in the U.S. Senate, spoke at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on April 25 about the provisions that will provide new protections for victims of domestic violence that were not previously covered by VAWA.

Among these improvements is the ability for local justice officials in tribal communities to bring non-Indians who live and commit crimes against women on tribal lands to justice. Currently, federal prosecutors decline to prosecute a majority of violent crimes that occur in Indian country, including a large number of sexual abuse related cases.

Parker delivered a firsthand account of her own abuse, and the importance of VAWA.

"I am a Native American statistic," Parker said. "I am a survivor of sexual and physical violence."

Parker was first assaulted as a toddler in the 1970s by a man who was never convicted.

"I was the size of a couch cushion," said Parker, who counted herself as "one of the many girls violated and attacked by a man who had no boundaries or regards for a little child's life, my life."

In the early 1980s, when she was still a youngster, Parker was babysitting her aunt's children when she found herself hiding them, and herself, from the men who had followed her aunt home to rape her.

"I could not save my auntie," Parker said on April 25. "I only heard her cries. Today is the first time that I have ever shared this story. She died at a young age. The perpetrators were never prosecuted."

The shortfalls of law enforcement on the reservation as she grew up motivated Parker to attend college in the early 1990s, during which time she studied criminal justice to address the fact that she saw so many other Native American women's lives shortened.

"However, I am only one, and we still have no real protection for women on our reservations," said Parker, who started a program to help young female survivors of abuse and assault when she returned from college in the late 1990s. "We have saved many lives during the creation of this program. However, one of my girls, Sophia, was murdered on my reservation by her partner. I still remember this day very strongly. Yet another one of our young girls took her life."

As Parker noted that "a majority of our girls" have struggled with repeated incidents of sexual and domestic violence, she posed a question to Congress.

"Why did you not protect me or my family?" Parker asked. "Why is my life, and the lives of so many other Native American women, less important?"

Murray cited statistics showing that, in one year alone, 34 percent of Native American women will be raped, 39 percent will be subjected to domestic violence and 56 percent will marry a non-Indian "who most likely will not be liable, or held liable," for any violent crime committed if these protections are not included in this legislation.

On April 26, Murray expressed the hope that the U.S. House of Representatives could follow the Senate's example in passing the VAWA reauthorization bill.

"It's a better bill because it not only ensures that existing safeguards are kept in place, it also expands protections to cover those who have needlessly been left to fend for themselves," Murray said. "Expanding coverage for domestic violence should never have been controversial. Where a person lives, who they love, or what their citizenship status may be should not determine whether or not their perpetrators are brought to justice."

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