During the 2018 session, the Washington Legislature took a step forward in addressing the under-reported epidemic of missing Native American women in the United States. Lawmakers passed a bill that promotes collaboration and information sharing to count, identify, and collect data on these missing women in Washington.
Native American women face high rates of both sexual and physical violence. A study from the DOJ reports that nearly 85 percent of Native American women have experienced violence in their lifetime. A National Criminal Justice Reference Service study shows that in some counties in the United States, murder rates against Native women is over ten times the national average.
In Washington State, the true number of missing women is unclear because there is no one place for comprehensive data collection.
Representative Gina McCabe’s HB 2951 requires the Washington State Patrol to conduct a study to determine how to increase criminal justice resources for reporting and identifying missing Native American women in Washington. The bill requires collaboration between the state patrol, the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, tribal and local law enforcement partners, tribes, and other organizations to report and investigate these disappearances. The goal of the study is to create a report for the legislature by January 2019 on the full scope of this problem and provide recommendations and possible legislation to address these disappearances.
The bill is a just a first step in addressing this problem. While the bill only requires that a study be conducted, legislators hope that the data gathered will give them the information they need to develop concrete solutions and devote more resources to this issue.
Representative McCabe, the bill’s prime sponsor, said she was inspired by the movie Wind River.
“The more I looked into it and the more I spoke to tribal members living in Washington, I realized this isn’t just some Hollywood story line,” said McCabe in a press release. “There’s virtually no record of exactly how many indigenous women are currently missing, and I think we need to figure out the scope of this grim epidemic before we can appropriately determine a means to finding these women.”
The bill was delivered to Governor Inslee’s desk last week and awaits his signature.