More Than 16 Days: Native American Women

Day 7 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: This article is written by Laura Casey, a recent graduate of Saint Louis University, spending time studying at both Regents College London and Sciences Po Lyon. She graduated with degrees in Political Science, International Studies, French and completed a minor in Foreign Service. Laura is currently studying for the GRE and hopes to attend postgraduate study in Foreign Affairs or Security Studies. Her main areas of interest are diplomacy, security studies, and the Middle East.

Images of domestic violence are typically reserved for poorer nations where women’s rights are slim-to-none. In it’s oft-proud spirit of exceptionalism, the United States took a stab at changing this. These statistics have been used so often that they run the risk of losing their shock value, but it remains startling fact that a woman is battered every 15 seconds in the United States. A woman is raped every two minutes. In other numbers, this means that, with regard to rape, 1 in 5 women will fall victim. Perhaps even more astonishingly, the majority of these incidents will not be reported. In fact, according to statistics from the US Department of Justice (compiled on feminist.com), 15 out of 16 of rapists will walk free. Because countries like to think in terms of economics, the costs associated with violence against women exceeds $5.8, with nearly $2 billon of this total accounting for the long term ramifications.

Now, remembering these numbers above, let’s look at what happens to the numbers when looking specifically at Native American communities, a long over-looked population. The average resident who lives on the Wind River Indian Reservation can expect to live to be 49 years old. Conditions encouraging this include 80% unemployment rates, 40% high school dropout rates, and appalling living conditions. While Wind River is an extreme example, it is not a far cry from the average communities where the other 500+ Native American Tribes reside.

In the average Native American community, women face an assault rate as much as 50% higher than the next most victimized demographic. With regard to rape, 1 in 3 Native American women will fall victim. As if that weren’t enough, to really secure their position at the top, the assaults that Native American women must endure are the most violent, making these women more likely to be injured, requiring medical care than women in the other groups. Unfortunately, changes that need to take place to abate the cycle are stalled. Like other women, “most Indian women do not report such crimes because of the belief that nothing will be done.”

What is also interesting is that 70% of these incidents are committed by persons of another race (non-Native American). This causes problems when trying to navigate the vast bureaucratic maze of Tribal, State, and Federal jurisdictions. For example, as per the Supreme Court, Tribal Courts have no jurisdiction over Non-Indians. As a result, “Non-Indians [the majority] who commit acts of domestic violence that are misdemeanors on Indian reservations are virtually immune from prosecution in most areas of the country.” American Indian advocates argue that this loophole attracts offenders to Indian country. It is not difficult to understand why these women don’t have confidence in the crime prevention apparatus.

As mentioned briefly above, the environments these women live in have been partially responsible for perpetuating the cycle of violence. Many of these communities are desperately poor. This brings along a host of problems associated with poverty like mental illness, alcohol, and drugs, which play a larger role in the sexual assaults of Native American women (“nearly 70% of women believed their attackers had been drinking and/or taking drugs before the offense”). Looking beyond the attackers themselves, we find an entire system failing those it has been set up to protect. The few police officers are often overwhelmed, sometimes discouraging women from reporting assaults. This means that the statistics are probably far lower than the actual number. Looking at the health services, hospitals are plagued by a chronic lack of funding, which results in a deficiency of rape kits, contraceptives, STD testing, and general training. This would prevent the victim from providing the necessary evidence against her attacker in court. Not that it would do much. If a woman’s case were to get beyond the Tribal Court, over 65% of cases went unprosecuted by the Department of Justice. Some justice.
I am going to sum up with a direct quote from Wikipedia (yes, Wikipedia) because I feel that it shows how backwards the situation has become. “In April 2012, the Senate voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and the House subsequently passed its own measure (omitting provisions of the Senate bill that would protect gay men, lesbians, American Indians, and illegal immigrants who were victims of domestic violence). Reconciliation of the two bills has been stymied by procedural measures, leaving the reauthorization in question.” I’ll leave it at that.

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The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence. In participation with The Center for Women’s Global Leadership, The Women Worldwide Initiative is hosting a Blog Series entitled, More Than 16 Days, from the start of the Campaign on the International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence on November 25th, to Human Rights Day on December 10th with contributions from one of our Board Members, founder of Everyday Ambassador, Take Back the Tech!, Young Professionals Amnesty International (NYC), writers for the International Political Forum and young women from Women LEAD, based in post-conflict Nepal.

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