Recognizing Native people is an important step in honoring and celebrating Indigenous nations and communities. More importantly, this recognition cannot happen without awareness of the violence Indigenous women have experienced throughout history. According to recent research, roughly 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced some capacity of violence. Further, about 1 in 2 of women from this same group have experienced some form of sexual violence. Alaska Native women, specifically, tend to deal with domestic violence at rates 10 times higher than the national average. Additionally, Indigenous women as a general whole are killed at almost 10 times the national average on certain reservations. Despite the information that is available, there is still a considerable amount of undercounted cases due to gaps in the data collection. The data is also limited because of the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The statistics that are available, however, are shocking. But what’s equally as shocking is the fact that little has been done to protect these women, and there has been an alarming lack of justice served for the victims of these crimes.
Lack of Protection
Indigenous nations have not been given any criminal authority over non-natives for over 35 years due to the United States law. This is detrimental to the victims of these crimes, as 96% of sexual violence cases against native women are being committed by non-natives. In fact, it’s been reported that white men commit a majority of sexual assault cases against Native women. Despite this knowledge, these nations are not able to prosecute the perpetrators. Native women, despite being able to marry non-natives, cannot have their tribes prosecute their spouses for any kind of sexual or domestic violence.
The solution seems obvious — ask US law enforcement and attorneys to protect Native women in these situations. However, these resources have been consistently ineffective. Between 2005 and 2009, US attorneys declined to prosecute 67% of native matters, including any kind of sexual abuse. In fact, any crimes of this nature aren’t investigated at all. The national average is 1 law enforcement officer for every 286 people. However, when it comes to native lands, it’s about 1 for every 524 people. There is a serious lack of precedence taken when these types of cases arise.
In an article with The Guardian, White Earth reservation member Lisa Brunner reported that her mom’s husband, who was not a member of the tribe, would repeatedly assault her mother. When law enforcement was called, her mother’s husband would be sent to jail for the night, Brunner and her mother would sometimes be transferred to a shelter, and in the morning, the cycle would repeat. When she was sexually assaulted, she did not call the police, as she felt it would do nothing.
What Happens Now?
When sexual violence is ignored on native lands, everybody suffers. Native children suffer from PTSD at 3 times the rate of the general population when they experience sexual violence in some form. The tribes aren’t able to help the victims, and justice is never served. The US government has been repeatedly called out for its lack of response to this issue. It’s been labeled as a human rights crisis, and the US has a sense of obligation by their treaties with the tribes to do something and start protecting native women. But, sexual violence advocacy needs to be tribe-specific. Tribes are not all the same. Cultures and laws vary from tribe to tribe, meaning that each nation might need to tackle this issue differently. This adds further to the limitations regarding this issue. Nonetheless, action needs to be taken, and awareness must be raised. The rate of violence against Native women is not decreasing, it’s doing just the opposite. Protection for these women is essential, and something must be done in order to prevent this terrible trend from continuing.