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Last edited: December 20, 2011

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Formal and informal systems may be linked through division of, as well as overlap in, jurisdiction, meaning the types of cases they deal with. This designation of jurisdiction may be established in law or through custom. Even if there is no official law stating which mechanism can deal with which kinds of cases, civil matters, community-level cases, and family cases may be addressed by informal mechanisms. Crimes that are perceived as “more serious” or violations of rights by the state or corporate actors are often addressed by the formal system.

Violence against women, such as domestic violence, is often erroneously viewed as “less serious” and relegated to the informal sector. Division of jurisdiction can also lead to gaps that leave women without effective access to justice in any forum. For example, in the United States for many decades, victims of violence in tribal Native American communities were often left without recourse to the criminal justice system because of jurisdictional confusion. Changes in U.S. law have begun to address this problem with passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act in 2010. Although in very early stages of implementation, the act allows for tribes to request that the federal government to exercise jurisdiction over crimes committed on tribal reservation when the tribe feels that the state is not responding effectively to the crime, a recurrent problem with crimes of violence against women. A Federal/Tribal Violence Against Women Task Force has been created. The Act also requires the government to produce a report assessing the capacities of institutions in tribal areas to respond to sexual assault and domestic violence and to make recommendations to the national legislature to address capacity gaps. For more information go to the website of the Tribal Law and Order Resource Center.