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News Release

Washington State Office of Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that he is working with Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Anacortes, to propose a bill in the next legislative session to create an alert in Washington state to help identify and locate missing Indigenous women and people.

The alert, similar to “silver alerts” for missing vulnerable adults, will broadcast information about missing Indigenous people on message signs and in highway advisory radio messages when activated, as well as through press releases to local and regional media. The bill is House Bill 1725.

This will be the first alert system specifically for missing and murdered Indigenous women and people in the country.

Indigenous women and people go missing and are murdered at rates higher than any other ethnic group in the United States. In Washington, more than four times as many Indigenous women go missing than white women, according to research conducted by the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle.

“The rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Washington is a crisis,” Ferguson said. “We must do everything we can to address this problem. This effective tool will help quickly and safely locate missing Indigenous women and people.”

“The unheard screams of missing and murdered people will be heard across Washington state with the implementation of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Alert System,” said Rep. Lekanoff. “Too many Indigenous mothers, sisters, wives and daughters have been torn from their families and their children raised without mothers. This crisis impacts every one of our families and communities and it takes collaboration among all governing bodies, law enforcement and media to bring awareness and stop these horrific crimes.”

Every legislative session Attorney General Ferguson introduces a slate of Attorney General Request bills. “Attorney General Request” is a formal designation for bills proposed by his office. Since 2013, 27 Attorney General Request bills have been signed into law.

Silver alerts have a proven record

Washington is one of 37 states with a “silver alert” system for missing vulnerable adults. States that report data on “silver alerts” report a high success rate. For example:

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  • Wisconsin reported a 96 percent success rate for locating missing vulnerable adults with its silver alert system during its first three years (180 of 188 vulnerable adults located);
  • Texas reported a 92 percent success rate during the first year of its silver alert system (48 of 52 missing vulnerable adults located safely).

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force

The Washington State Legislature created the Washington State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force as part of the effort to coordinate a statewide response to the urgent crisis of Indigenous people who go missing, are the victims of homicide or experience other types of gender-based violence in urban and tribal communities.

The Attorney General’s Office is facilitating the task force, providing staffing and support for its work. Rep. Lekanoff is a member of the task force’s executive committee.

Tribes, community members and grassroots activists have done substantial work to identify current challenges regarding data, reporting practices, causes of violence, investigations, prosecutions and direct services that impact the rates of violence against tribal and urban Indigenous communities. The task force will build on these efforts to address barriers and provide recommendations to the Legislature to close these gaps.

Violence against Indigenous women and within Indigenous communities continues to be underreported and misunderstood throughout Indian Country and the United States. Complex issues around jurisdiction and data collection have created obstacles to understanding the full extent of how many Indigenous women have gone missing, been murdered or been the victim of other types of gender-based crime over generations.

The 23-member task force combines the institutional and cultural knowledge of state agencies, tribal nations and Indigenous communities to center the experiences of victims and to approach the work in a way that is responsive to communities and grounded in Indigenous values.

The task force will assess the systemic causes that contribute to disproportionate rates of violence, provide recommendations for addressing barriers and review data collection and reporting protocols. Recognizing that tribal boundaries and communities have extended far beyond contemporary borders, the task force will also address how the surrounding states and Canada are impacted by the jurisdictional and data gaps.

For more information on the task force, visit https://www.atg.wa.gov/washington-state-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-and-people-task-force.

Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

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