SURVIVE Act for Tribal Victim Services Includes a 5% Tribal VOCA Funding Stream
In 2017, Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, introduced S. 1870, the Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment (SURVIVE) Act. The goal of SURVIVE is to improve public safety in tribal communities and strengthen resources for Indian victims of crime. Momentum continues to grow for passage of SURVIVE in 2018.
The SURVIVE Act, which is cosponsored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)), Steve Daines (R-MT), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Barrasso (R-WY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Patty Murray (D-WA) will increase needed tribal victim assistance by creating a tribal grant program within the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). The bill directs that 5% of the total annual outlays from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) be provided to Indian tribes. In addition, to ensure that tribal governments are able to access CVF resources on a footing equal to state and territorial governments, the bill empowers tribes and Indian victims of crime by:
- Expanding the types of victim assistance, services, and infrastructure for which the funds may be used, including domestic violence shelters, medical care, counseling, legal assistance and services, and child and elder abuse programs;
- Providing for significant confidentiality and privacy protections for crime victims to feel safe when receiving services;
- Enabling tribes to deliver critical, culturally tailored victim services; and
- Increasing the resources available to Indian crime victims from the CVF without increasing overall spending.
It is estimated that less than 0.5% of the CVF reaches Indian tribes, despite federal data showing that Indian tribes face some of the highest victimization rates in the country.
Increased Resources to Address Violence Against Native Women
Violent crime victimization on tribal lands is significantly higher than in the rest of the United States. DOJ has found that murder rates of American Indian women on some reservations are ten times the national average. A 2016 NIJ survey found that:
- More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native adults (83%) have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime.
- Among American Indian and Alaska Native women, 55.5% have experienced physical violence by intimate partners in their lifetime, and more than 1 in 12 have experienced it in the past year.
- More than half of American Indian and Alaska Native women (56.1%) have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
The NIJ study also found that Native victims are more likely to be injured as a result of their violent victimization, more likely to need services, and are significantly less likely to have access to services compared to their non-Native counterparts.
Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)
The VOCA was enacted in 1984 and established the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) to support services and compensation for victims of crime. The CVF is unique in that it is funded only through the collection of criminal fines, forfeited appearance bonds, penalties, and assessments. These dollars derive from offenders convicted of federal crimes and resulting fines and penalties; not taxpayers.
While Congress does not appropriate funds for VOCA, it does determine how much can be released or distributed each year from the CVF. Under the current system, it is estimated that less than 0.5% of the CVF reaches Indian tribes, despite federal data showing that American Indian and Alaska Native communities face some of the highest crime victimization rates in the country. For more than 10 years, the National Congress of American Indians Task Force, advocates, and tribal leaders have requested a permanent fix to this disparity.
The SURVIVE Act brings us within reach of these lifesaving resources. Furthermore, the tribal funding stream recognizes the unique status of Indian tribes as sovereign entities and reflects the federal government’s trust responsibility to Indian tribes.