Native American Women and Violence

By Bhungalia, Lisa | National NOW Times, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Native American Women and Violence


Bhungalia, Lisa, National NOW Times


Native American women experience the highest rate of violence of any group in the United States. A report released by the Department of Justice, American Indians and Crime, found that Native American women suffer violent crime at a rate three and a half times greater than the national average. National researchers estimate that this number is actually much higher than has been captured by statistics; according to the Department of Justice over 70% of sexual assaults are never reported.

As women of color, Native Americans experience not only sexual violence, but also institutionalized racism. Alex Wilson, a researcher for the Native American group Indigenous Perspectives, found ahigh level of tension between law enforcement and Native American women, who report numerous encounters where the police treated the women as if they were not telling the truth.

"In a reservation community," Wilson said, "911 would dispatch police to a scene of domestic violence, but police would call the victim by cell phone and decide himself when or if he should go to the victim's home. Often the women would wait for an hour and other times the abuser would answer when the police called, and would say everything was fine, and there was no need for them to come. Native women... who called police for help were often revictimized by the police."

Native American women also stand a high risk of losing their children in instances of physical and sexual abuse. The women often will stay with abusive husbands in order to keep their children. In one case, a woman was beaten by her husband so badly that he broke bones and she was forced to seek refuge in a domestic abuse shelter. The husband, through support of his tribe, was able to gain custody of their two children. He continued his violent behavior, at one point, throwing their two-- year-old child across the room. The woman was never able to regain custody.

In addition to domestic abuse, Native American women also experience the highest levels of sexual abuse of any group. A report from the American Indian Women's Chemical Health Project found that three-- fourths of Native American women have experienced some type of sexual assault in their lives. However, most remain silent due to cultural barriers, a high level of mistrust for white-dominated agencies, fear of familial alienation, and a history of inactivity by state and tribal agencies to prosecute crimes committed against them.

"There are cultural barriers and a lack of understanding of culture in general," said sexual offense worker Bonnie Clairmont, of the current systems meant to support survivors of sex crimes. As reported by The Circle On-Line, July 1999, she says, "One of the crucial things many professionals do not understand, is that Native Americans have a legitimate reason to distrust 'the system.' After all, memories-both personal and cultural-of forced sterilization and other violent 'treatment' procedures are not so far in the distant past for many Native Americans."

The Report on Violence Against Alaska Native Women in Anchorage, conducted by community agencies in Anchorage, Alaska, found a widespread fear and distrust for law enforcement. Nearly all of the women interviewed felt the system had "turned its back on them" and insisted that their rights had been systematically violated. The report documents an instance involving an Anchorage police officer and a Native Alaskan woman who had been held hostage and dragged across the lawn by an intimate partner. …

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