Utah task force probes murdered and missing Indigenous women

The Associated Press

Rep. Angela Romero would bring together lawmakers, researchers, tribes and law enforcement

PROVO, Utah (AP) — Native American women face a murder rate that is more than 10 times the national average, according to federal statistics, and a Utah lawmaker wants to address the violence. 

Democratic state Rep. Angela Romero said her top priority this year is her proposal to create a task force aimed at studying violence against indigenous women, the Daily Herald in Provo reported. 

"Native American women are at a higher risk than any other demographic when it comes to sexual violence and domestic abuse," Romero said. 

Those crimes can be particularly challenging because they often involve many different agencies. If a crime happens on a Native American reservation, the investigation can involve tribal police, local police, and state and federal law enforcement.

"We need to find a way to ensure that all these entities are connecting and working together so that people aren't falling through the cracks," she said. 

Her plan would bring together lawmakers, researchers, tribes and law enforcement. It would also include an advocate for victims, a voice that is sometimes isn't heard on projects like this, Romero said. 

"For me, it was really important to have Native voices and to have a balance of law enforcement … and individuals who are trying to do preventative work in this area," she said. 

Romero is working with Republican Sen. David Hinkins, whose district includes the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation, which also stretches into Arizona and New Mexico. He has said the issue is an important one to people he represents. A nationwide study of 71 cities by the Urban Indian Health Institute found Utah had the eighth-highest number of missing and slain indigenous women.

The task force would receive a one-time appropriation of $40,000 for staffing. Its main goal would be to create a report about what gaps exist and a road map to prevent and address future violence. 

The measure passed its first hurdle this week, and will now be considered by the full House. 

"Will we solve everything? No, but it's a starting point of where to point us as the Legislature," Romero said.

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