Native American women living on reservations are forced to deal with unique challenges. There is a limited number of police officers to respond to calls; jurisdictional issues are unresolved; there are no jails; the national law is not enforced. As the result, Native American women are left alone to cope with physical abuse, violence, and rape. Native women have no access to telephones, emergency services, and transportation. Violence against Native Women is a national problem with serious political, economic, and social implications to society in general. Native American women are not able to stop or prevent violence against them without governmental intervention.
The rate of violent crimes against Native American women is 50% higher than reported by black males. As much as 70% of violent acts against Native women are committed by persons of a different race. Moreover, Native female crimes are two times the national rate; they are raped at a rate double that of rapes reported by all races. Seventeen percent of women have been stalked with an overall rate of 98 per 1,000. Native American victims of intimate and family violence are more likely to be injured (North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services 2001).
Native American women living at tribal lands in Oklahoma do not have any protection from violence because it takes several months to establish who has jurisdiction over the specific crime. For example, two Native American women reported being gang-raped, however, they never saw the justice served because they were forced to wear blindfolds and, therefore, we’re unable to say whether the rapes took place in a state or tribal land (Amnesty International 2007).
Similar situations are common at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North and South Dakota. While the reservation covers 2.3 million acres, there are only six patrol officers and two investigators. Women have to wait for many days before receiving any report. At the same time, victims and survivors report that they have experienced sexual violence more than once. Many women are offered to travel 80 miles to undergo a sexual assault forensic exam. These factors are serious barriers to reporting crime.
Because of complex laws, the state of Alaska restricts local tribes from exercising criminal jurisdiction. It is worth adding that Alaska ranks number one for rapes in the country: Native women experience high levels of sexual violence while one-third of villages are not accessible by road and do not have a hospital (Amnesty International 2007). In most cases, response to Alaska crimes can take many weeks.
Reasons of Violence
Women living in a reservation community call 911, however, instead of immediate action, police call the victim and decide whether to go to the victim’s house. Sometimes, the abuser answers the phone and says that everything is ok (Bhungalia 2001). In addition, Native American women do not report violence because of the fear to lose their children. As the result, women stay with abusive husbands to protect children. The root of the increasing violence against Native women in the United States is a widespread fear and distrust for law enforcement. Native American women feel that the system systematically violates their rights. There is a valid ground for distrust: women’s attackers are rarely convicted.
Due to a lack of federal funding, social services on reservations are not available to the majority of Native American women. Health facilities cannot afford personnel and essential equipment, even inexpensive rape kits. The overall situation requires immediate attention. Molestation and rape are so common in tribal communities that young women expect to be victims of sexual violence at some point in their life. Lack of trust and insufficient funding combined with the highest poverty rates in the country leave Native American women with no hope for better life or protection against violence.
Bubar (2004) reports the recent roundtable discussion that included urban and rural reservation women. Providers, community members, and professionals were present. Native women pointed out that the federal system, funding and resources, prevention and education, shelters, and tribal infrastructure were among the primary factors requiring immediate attention. While a lot of research is conducted, Native American women do not feel any improvements in the system. Notably, a lot of funds are devoted to conducting numerous researches on violence against Native American women, while no funds are provided to establish more shelters and provide professional health care services. Government, not tribes, is responsible for the violence against Native women.
The roots of violence against Native American women can be traced to the times when Columbus came to America and the oppression of the local population started. For many centuries local indigenous communities were denied all rights and freedoms as if they were excluded from American citizenship. The American government forgets that it promotes equality of rights, freedoms, and protections. However, the terrifying statistics on crimes against Native American women and the lack of an adequate law enforcement system indicate that these communities are discriminated against based on their ethnicity and race. The United States is not free of discrimination. Unfortunately, Native American women are turned into direct victims of the government’s failure to protect their rights.
Solutions to Violence
The scope of the problem is evident and there is an extreme need for governmental intervention. The approach to prevent violence against Native American women should include longer sentence terms for offenders and a better enforcement model with a focus on community responsibility. Low reporting rates indicate that Native American women do not trust the system. The government must develop official statistics on crimes against Native women and make this information public. Moreover, battery, sexual assault, rape, and other violence against Native American women should be prosecuted in accordance with national law. Members of reservation communities should be educated on the issue of violence against Native American women. They should demand adequate funding, the establishment of shelters, and the availability of counseling. Nevertheless, none of these recommendations will stop violence against Native women if the American government is not devoted to the protection of their rights.
In conclusion, the government must develop comprehensive plans of action to prevent violence against Native American women and end discrimination based on indigenous gender. Moreover, the government is obligated to ensure accountability, increase funding, ensure effective policing, end impunity for abusers, provide support services, and integrate human rights perspectives. Taking into account the historical oppression of Native American women and lack of attention to the problem, the violence against Native American women is unlikely to be stopped.
Amnesty International. (2007). Document – USA: Sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women. Briefing on Oklahoma, North and South Dakota, and Alaska. Web.
Bhungalia, L. (2001). Native American Women and Violence. National NOW Times. Web.
Bubar, R. (2004). Violence against Native Women. Journal of Social Justice, 31 (4), 70-85.
North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services. (2001). Violence Against Native American Women. Web.