WASHINGTON ― A bipartisan group of senators unveiled legislation Wednesday to make the federal government step up its response to the largely overlooked crisis of Native American women going missing, being murdered or being forced into sex trafficking.
The Not Invisible Act would help establish an overarching federal strategy for addressing the skyrocketing rates of violence targeted at indigenous people. It creates an advisory committee of local, tribal and federal leaders to brainstorm best practices for stemming violent crime and the trafficking of Native women, and then make recommendations to the Justice Department and Interior Department on how to better direct their resources.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), comes as Native women are facing an epidemic of violence. Eight-four percent of indigenous women experience violence in their lifetime, and in some tribal communities, Native women are murdered at 10 times the national average.
Native women and girls are also disproportionately likely to become victims of sex trafficking, said Cortez Masto, which is partly why so many are going missing. At least 506 indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been killed in 71 U.S. cities, including more than 330 since 2010, according to a November report by Urban Indian Health Institute.
“I know from working with my tribal communities … that human trafficking is occurring,” she told HuffPost. “We need to play catch up on this.”
Cortez Masto, who was Nevada’s attorney general for eight years, said her bill will help to refocus federal agencies on why Native women are disappearing, where they are going, how to collect data on the issue and how to make sure law enforcement is trained to identify sex trafficking and start prosecuting offenders.
She and Murkowski co-sponsored a similar bill in January, called Savanna’s Act, that boosts coordination and data collection among tribal, local, state and federal law enforcement in cases involving missing and murdered Native women. The Alaska senator told HuffPost at the time that she had learned in recent years that one of the “brutal realities” is that Native women command more money for the traffickers.
“Native women, because of their looks, can be viewed as more exotic, more Asian, and apparently there is a higher market for women that are of Asian descent,” Murkowski said. “When I heard that, it just… It just sickens me.”
Cortez Masto added that the Not Invisible Act already has bipartisan support in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, of which she is a member, and said she doesn’t know of any Republican with a reason to oppose it.
“Sen. Murkowski and I are doing this together,” she said.
Here’s the full text of the bill: