Decolonizing VAWA 2021: A Step in the Right Direction for Protecting Native American Women

Sheena L. Gilbert, Emily M. Wright, Tara N. Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was hallmark legislation aimed at combating violence against women. While violence against women is a national issue that affects women of all race/ethnicities, it affects Native American women the most, as Native women experience the highest rates of violence. Violence against Native women is rooted in colonization because it decreases the power of tribal government, diminishes tribal sovereignty, and devalues Native Americans, which in turn leaves Native women more vulnerable to victimization. As such, amendments to VAWA must take particular action on violence against Native women, including actions that support decolonization. The 2013 VAWA reauthorization acknowledged colonization and was the federal government’s first step in the decolonization process. It restored tribal jurisdiction over some VAWA crimes, but there are still gaps regarding protecting Native women. This policy analysis examines the proposed VAWA reauthorization, HR 1620, and provides three specific recommendations in order to better protect Native women: (1) allow tribes to write their own rape laws, (2) expand tribal jurisdiction to all VAWA crimes and stranger and acquaintance violence, and (3) enhance tribes’ abilities to secure VAWA funds and resources. These recommendations are discussed in terms of existing literature and implications for Native people and Native communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFeminist Criminology
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • decolonization
  • Indigenous
  • Native American
  • violence
  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Law


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