One in three Native American women suffers sexual assault
- One in three Native American women suffers sexual assault
By Jim Lobe
Updated May 14, 2007
WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) - Native American women are at least 2.5 times
more likely to be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes as other women
in the United States, according to a report released Apr. 25 by
At least one in three Indigenous women is raped or otherwise subjected
to sexual violence during her lifetime, according to the 113-page
report, the latest in a series produced by the London-based group's
Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women.
At least 86 percent of reported rapes or other sexual assaults against
Indigenous women are committed by non-Indian men who are rarely
prosecuted or punished, according to the report, "Maze of Injustice:
The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA."
The failure to pursue justice in such cases is due to a number of
factors, the report noted, including chronic under-funding of police
and health services, and a "complex maze of tribal, state and federal
jurisdictions that is so confusing that it often allows perpetrators
to evade justice entirely."
"What this amounts to is a travesty of justice for the tens of
thousands of Indigenous survivors of rape," said Larry Cox, executive
director of Amnesty's U.S. section.
"Violence against women is not only a criminal or social issueit is
also a human rights abuse," he added. "In failing to ensure that
Indigenous women are protected from violence, the U.S. government is
complicit in violating their human rights. It is disgraceful that such
abuse even exists today."
Registered Native Americans, who make up about 1.4 percent of the 300
million total U.S. citizens, are distributed among some 560 tribal
governments across the country.
While these governments are given substantial autonomy over their
internal affairs, the federal government has steadily eroded their
authority, including their justice systems, particularly in areas that
involve non-Native individuals or interests.
In one of the most far-reaching cases, the Supreme Court ruled in 1978
that tribal governments cannot prosecute criminal defendants who are
non-Indian even if the crime of which they are accused takes place on
In addition, tribal authorities, many of whose communities suffer the
highest poverty rates in the U.S., are chronically under-financed,
leading to major gaps in law enforcement and the availability of
social and health services as compared to non-Native communities.
The report, which was based on Justice Department data and research in
three states with proportionately large Native American
populationsAlaska, South Dakota, and Oklahomafound Indigenous girls
and women suffered most from these deficiencies.
"American Indian and Alaska Native women are living in a virtual war
zone, where rape, abuse and murder are commonplace and sexual
predators prey with impunity," said Sarah Deer, an attorney at the
California-based Tribal Law and Policy Institute.
"In many tribal communities, rape and molestation are so common that
young women fully expect that they will be victims of sexual violence
at some point," she noted, adding that the weakening of tribal justice
systems by the federal government has made it far more difficult for
victims of sexual violence to gain redress.
Indeed, federal and tribal statistics may understate the degree of
violence suffered by Native American women, according to the report,
which noted that fear of retaliation and the lack of confidence that
the authorities will take allegations of assault significantly reduce
reporting of sexual assault throughout the United States, as well as
in Native American communities.
One support worker in Oklahoma, for example, told Amnesty
International that only three of her 77 active cases of sexual and
domestic violence had been reported to the police.
And many women interviewed on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in
South Dakota said they could not think of a single Native American
woman within the community who had not been subjected to sexual
violence at some point in their lives, and that many had suffered
several assaults, by different perpetrators.
Native American women were victims in nearly 80 percent of confirmed
cases of rape and murder in Alaska over the last 15 years, according
to a medical professional responsible for post-mortem examinations of
such cases in the state. Native Americans make up only 16 percent of
Alaska's total population of about 675,000.
Jurisdictional issues have often been a major obstacle to successful
prosecution of sexual assaults, particularly in states such as
Oklahoma, where land owned by nearly 40 different tribes adjoin each
other and are often intersected by state land in a "checkerboard" pattern.
Renee Brewer, family violence coordinator with the Citizen Potawatomi
Nation in Oklahoma, cited one case in which the victim, a member of
the Shawnee Tribe, lived in tribal housing owned by another tribe, the
Sac & Fox Nation, but located within the limits of an incorporated
city outside of tribal lands.
She had a valid protective order against her estranged husband, a
Seminole, who entered her home, beat and raped her, and then refused
to leave. When she called 911, police officers from four different
jurisdictions showed up.
"Being an Indian woman rape victim in the state of Oklahoma usually
means that law enforcement officers spend as much time trying to
determine the appropriate responding authority as they do in
protecting you from the rapist," she said.
In that case, police assistance was at least available. In South
Dakota's Standing Rock Reservation, an area of almost 2.3 million
acres, tribal police have at most three patrol officers on duty during
the day. Nevertheless, Amnesty found that women on the reservation who
report sexual violence often have to wait for hours, even days, before
receiving a response from the police department, if they receive any
In Alaska, the situation for Native American women in rural districts,
a third of which have no police presence at all, is even more dramatic.
In addition to under-funding Native law enforcement agencies, the
federal government has also denied adequate resources to the Indian
Health Service, according to Amnesty, which found that in cases where
health facilities were relatively close and accessible, they often
lacked qualified staff or even inexpensive rape kits that would be
helpful to any eventual prosecution.
The fact that non-Native perpetrators cannot be tried in tribal courts
has actually drawn sexual predators to tribal areas to assault women,
because they know that federal prosecutions are rare in those areas,
"The majority of rape cases on tribal lands that are referred to the
federal courts are reportedly never brought to trial," Mr. Cox from
"Sex offenders and predators are well aware of the jurisdictional gaps
and confusion created by the Oklahoma checkerboards," Ms. Brewer
added. "Non-Indians often flaunt their crimes because it is so rare
that they will be held accountable."
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