Sexual Assault Advocacy Guide
A Native Woman’s Perspective on the Scope of the Problem: Sexual Assault of American Indian and Alaskan Native Women
As Native women and advocates, we know that in Native women’s support groups or talking circles our discussions inevitably move to sexual assault. From the earliest stages of childhood to the later years of life as an elder, Native women experience-in epidemic proportions-sexual assault, sexual abuse, molestation, incest, rape, as well as other forms of sexual violence. So pervasive is this experience that the in-group dialogue generally concentrates on participants supporting one another and discussing the healing process rather than the criminal justice response. As we consider the issue of sexual assault against American Indian and Alaskan Native Women, a critical thinking analysis directs us to ask, within the context of the scope of the problem, what are the common denominators for Native women that put us at the highest risk of sexual violence? In which direction must we travel to find solutions to this epidemic?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Report on American Indians and Crime released in 1999, American Indians and Alaskan Natives experience violent crime at per capita rates that are double those of the U.S. resident population. The totality of this report exposes disturbing facts about American Indians and Alaskan Natives and crime. One of the most alarming revelations is that as Native women, we are over three times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault than women of other races.1
The epidemic of violence against Native women-particularly sexual assault-is a troubling trend that affects the health and welfare of current and future generations of women. Although research such as the BJS report is useful in exposing the gravity of violence reflected by reported crime, it is a statistical analysis that reflects only the end result of a more complex cataclysm. These statistics as they stand are staggering, but when we consider these figures in light of the fact that most sexual assaults are not reported,2 this issue becomes a crisis of epidemic proportions for Native women.
This discussion focuses specifically on sexual assault against American Indian and Alaskan Native women because it is the single most critical issue facing Indian women not being adequately addressed by the criminal justice system, tribal governments, or society as a whole. The goal is to provide a better understanding of the far-reaching impact of sexual assault against American Indian and Alaskan Native women by exploring specific elements of perceptions, policy, and other key factors in order to determine the scope of the problem. It is hoped that examining this issue from a broader perspective will bring the critical need to develop strategies that address culturally appropriate and effective responses to end the sexual assault of American Indian and Alaskan Native women to the forefront. This approach acknowledges that the complexity of sovereignty and jurisdictional barriers deserves an intense analysis, much more than can be discussed in this brief overview; however the prosecution of sexual assaults against adult Native women is vital to evaluating the scope of the problem. Jim Mancini of the Dine Bureau reports that rapes have jumped 40% on the Navajo reservation in the last three years, and describes the seriousness of ever increasing numbers of sexual assaults of Native women. Another notable fact is that sex crimes account for 70% of tribal investigators time.3 In spite of the fact that research , state and tribal agencies to provide adequate protection to Native women, law enforcement resources in Native communities lag far behind such resources in other communities. Underlying these statistics is the vital question, “Who is responsible for the safety of Native women?”
Federal Indian Policy
The capacity to protect Native women from violence in the form of sexual assault is dependent on the coordination of tribal, federal, and state responses. Amongst the many public policy protocols addressing violence against women is the focus on developing a coordinated community response, particularly within the criminal justice system. This criminal justice emphasis has made great strides taking the issue of domestic violence out of the home and into the halls of justice, criminalizing the behavior and forging partnerships between advocacy groups and law enforcement. In theory and practical application, this coordination has provided an array of options for Native women wishing to leave abusive relationships.
Sexual assault, however, continues to be an area in which the criminal justice response to violence against women is lacking-especially for Native women. This is due, in large part, to the fact that the coordination of criminal justice institutions intersecting the lives of Native people lack resources and continuity. Although significant progress has been undertaken with the establishment of the Office of Tribal Justice through the U. S. Department of Justice, funding remains insufficient to adequately address the basic needs of tribal law enforcement, tribal courts, and correctional facilities on reservations, villages, and rancherias.
As the increasing need for the administration of justice is justified through data collection and research, federal funding for Native programming has not kept pace-in fact, it has lagged grossly behind in providing adequate resources. According to recent research conducted by the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights, funding for Native programming has remained at an increase of 1 percent for the last six years (between 1998 and 2004). Additionally, during the period of 2002 – 2003, funding for Native programs decreased by 14 percent. 5 These statistics demonstrate a key contributing factor to the prevalence of violent crime against Native women-tribes are inadequately