‘American Diagnosis’: A Fuller Moon Rising — Revised ‘Violence Against Women Act’ Offers Hope

‘American Diagnosis’: A Fuller Moon Rising — Revised ‘Violence Against Women Act’ Offers Hope

Editor’s note: This episode includes descriptions of violence that some might find disturbing. Intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence, can take the form of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. If you or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner violence, help is available. 

StrongHearts Native Helpline provides culturally appropriate support and advocacy for Indigenous women. Call 1-844-7-NATIVE or text the corresponding number: 1-844-762-8483.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.

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Episode 5: Power to Police Perpetrators

Mary Kathryn Nagle is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, an attorney, a playwright ― and an advocate working to increase protections for Native women in the U.S. justice system. 

Not long after the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, was reauthorized in 2013, she sat with fellow activist Lisa Brunner to talk about a new play Nagle was working on in response to the ruling. 

Brunner said she told the playwright that VAWA is just a “sliver of a full moon” of the protection Native women need.

The metaphor resonated with Nagle, and “Sliver of a Full Moon” would become the title of her play. It shares the stories of Native survivors of domestic abuse, and exposes the gaps in the justice system that often let non-Native perpetrators commit crimes without consequence. Critics say that over decades those gaps became an opportunity for abusers to flourish on Native land.

“Just imagine your own community,” said attorney Alfred Urbina, “where certain people weren’t prosecuted or arrested for crimes. If you lived in an area where certain people didn’t have to abide by the law, what does that do to a community?”

Urbina is the attorney general for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in southwestern Arizona, one of the first tribes to begin prosecuting non-Native offenders under the VAWA 2013 rules. 

Among Native survivors of violence, more than 90% reported they had experienced violence from a perpetrator who was non-Native, according to a survey funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized on March 10, 2022, reaffirming tribes’ authority to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of sexual violence and certain other crimes. It expands prosecution power for tribal nations in Maine and Alaska and offers funding to support law enforcement implementation of VAWA. 

“It’s not the totality of everything that we need. Right?” said Brunner. “But, you know, the full moon is bright. And we’re just starting with the moon. I’m after the universe.”

Voices from the episode:

Lisa Brunner, founding member of the Violence Against Women Task Force, adjunct professor at the White Earth Tribal & Community College — LinkedInMary Kathryn Nagle, playwright, partner at Pipestem Law, specializing in tribal sovereignty of Native nations and peoples, executive director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program — Twitter, InstagramAlfred Urbina, attorney general for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Arizona — Twitter

Season 4 of “American Diagnosis” is a co-production of KHN and Just Human Productions.

Our Editorial Advisory Board includes Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Alastair Bitsóí, and Bryan Pollard. Special thanks to Gina Lopez.

To hear all KHN podcasts, click here.

Listen and follow “American Diagnosis” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or Stitcher.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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