Violence against Native Women

Article excerpt

She still hears the whispered and anxious voices of her three children at night ... always blaming herself for what her boyfriend did to them. All of them had significant physical damage to their vaginal and rectal areas from her alcoholic boyfriend who was molesting each of them on a regular basis--the same boyfriend who beat her within an inch of her life. She remains haunted by how the state system viewed her ... another Native mother who was absent ... separated from her children when they were taken into state custody and later brought in alone to tell their story to federal investigators working in their rural reservation community. They took her children away but never inquired or investigated the domestic violence. She was hospitalized at the time with broken ribs and internal injuries to her organs; she told the medical provider they were the result of being mugged by a tourist visiting her community--a community that is economically barren and largely unaware of the child sexual abuse and domestic violence that she and her three children were experiencing. It is a community she feels now perhaps didn't know how to respond. (1)

ACCORDING TO A REPORT BY THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, AMERICAN Indians and Crime (Greenfield and Smith, 1999), rates of violent victimization were higher for Native women than for all other groups in the United States. Natives are more likely to be victims of crime than are any other group in the United States. People of a different race committed 70% of violent victimizations against Natives. The report also notes the rate of violent crime experienced by Native women between 1992 and 1996 was nearly 50% higher than that reported by African American males, long known to experience very high rates of violent victimization. According to the Department of Justice, 70% of sexual assaults of Native women are never reported, which suggests that the number of violent victimizations of Native women is actually higher (Ibid.).

The purpose of this article is to explore issues relevant to understanding the current high rates of violence against Native women in North America. Based on a review of the literature, the historical context of the Native experience is presented and we identified four factors that contribute to high rates of violence against Native women. The current tribal community context is also discussed and five factors that may contribute to high rates of violence against Native women are identified. Next, we present the results of a roundtable discussion with Native women on violence against women. Implications for research and practice that address the needs of Native women and Native peoples are discussed. A Community Readiness model is also introduced as a potential tool for working with tribal communities to address violence against Native women.

Violence and Native Americans

A brief discussion on violence and Native Americans as well as a more specific discussion on Native women will set the foundation for discussing violence against Native women. The Department of Justice report mentioned above was a compilation and new analysis of data on violent crime among American Indians. In that report, Native Americans were found to be twice as likely to be the victims of crime than is the case for any other group of U.S. residents (Ibid.). Beyond highlighting the incidence of violence among Native Americans, the report showed that nearly 70% of the violent victimizations (rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault) experienced by Native Americans were perpetrated by persons not of the same ethnic group. This represents a substantially higher rate of interracial violence than is experienced by Anglo or African American victims (Ibid.). While crime rates for Natives were highest in urban areas, the crime rate against Natives in rural communities is more than twice the rate of violence for rural Anglos. There are fewer law enforcement officers in tribal communities than in other rural areas and nationwide there is less law enforcement per capita in tribal communities. …