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For centuries, tribal justice systems have emphasized the importance of a victim centered approach. For many tribes healing and safety for victims has been and continues to be as important or even more important than offender accountability. As tribes build tribal justice system capacity to timely and effectively respond to incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault, it is important that the tribal justice system consider traditional notions of justice and the inclusion of victims’ rights. Tribes can identify where systemic responses may be strengthened by looking at existing practices, procedures, rules, and laws that support, affirm, or otherwise provide rights to victims as a case advances through the criminal and/or civil court process. Affording a legal means for a victim to be heard in the justice system process helps foster victim safety, supports healing for victims, and significantly reduces the likelihood of re-victimization by the justice system.

KEY Steps to building capacity

Self-Assessment: Understanding the current status of the law or process helps to identify where there is room to improve or otherwise build legal capacity to provide specific and enforceable legal rights for victims of domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault (SA) as a case moves through the justice system.

  • Does the tribe currently have formal laws providing specific rights to victims of domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault (SA) as a case moves through the tribal criminal or civil court process?

    • If no, should such laws be developed?

    • If yes, then what can or should be done to improve these laws?

  • Does the tribe have a means for victims to enforce those laws?

    • If no, should a process for enforcement be developed?

    • If yes, then what can or should be done to improve the enforcement of victims’ rights legislation?

Review and Amendment: Once the tribe has a good understanding of existing/ applicable law and has identified ways to improve upon the same, laws can be developed or amended to support victims’ rights legislation and enforcement. 

Understanding Victims’ Rights

Who is a victim? (non-federal)

  • Will be defined by statute

  • Could be victims of certain crimes (felonies, violent crimes, sexual assault, domestic assaults)

  • Could be a category of victims (elders, children, disabled, domestic violence)

  • Could include surviving family members of homicide victim

  • Could require victim to report to law enforcement

  • Could require criminal action to be filed


What are Victims’ Rights?

Victims' rights are legal rights afforded to victims of crime. This can include:

  • Right to be treated with fairness, dignity, sensitivity and respect

  • Right to attend and be present at criminal hearing

  • Right to be heard in the criminal justice process to include conferring with prosecutor and submitting a victim impact statement

  • Right to be informed of proceeding and events in criminal system (release or escape of offender, legal rights/remedies, available benefits and so on)

  • Right to protection from intimidation and harassment

  • Right to restitution from offender

  • Right to privacy (including protection of address)

  • Right to apply for victim compensation

  • Right to expeditious return of property seized as evidence

  • Right to speedy trial

  • Right to enforcement of these rights

Additional Resources

Victims’ Rights in Indian Country

  • National Congress of American Indians (2019): Provides victim’s rights information, in the federal system, as those rights relate to prosecuting domestic violence related crimes in Indian country. Provides information on how the first 18 tribes prosecuting Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction over non-Indians are addressing victim’s rights.

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