Living in the Blast Zone: Sexual Violence Piped onto Native Land by Extractive Industries

By Lily Grisafi

Native American women around the country, and particularly those living near extractive industries, face an epidemic of sexual violence. The high rates of violence against Native women are due in large part to the lack of liability for those most responsible. Flaws in United States and tribal criminal justice systems create de facto jurisdictional gaps that allow perpetrators to commit crimes on tribal land with impunity. In particular, restrictions on tribal sovereignty and criminal jurisdiction, inadequate funding for tribal criminal justice systems, and federal apathy to crimes on tribal land deepen the pre-existing problem of violence against Native women.

This Note elucidates the realities and causes of violence against Native women, in order to find legal solutions for holding perpetrators and extractive companies liable. Part II discusses the facts and legal backdrop of this epidemic of violence. Part III then examines how laws inhibiting tribal sovereignty combined with federal prosecutorial inaction are responsible for this epidemic. Part IV puts forth available legal solutions for holding perpetrators and extractive companies accountable through United States and tribal criminal justice systems. To hold perpetrators accountable, tribes should be legally permitted to exercise enhanced criminal jurisdiction over non-native defendants, and the Federal government should provide tribes with the inter-agency support and federal funding necessary to carry out this enhanced jurisdiction effectively. For their part, extractive corporations should be held responsible through federal regulation and civil action. Federal agencies should regulate extractive companies in the context of and in correlation with their businesses’ impacts on neighboring Native women’s safety. When, despite proper federal regulation, these corporations engage in negligent hiring practices that lead to increased violence against Native women, the corporations should be held civilly liable for public nuisance in state and tribal court.

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