Recently, US President Obama signed a revised version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), adding protections for Native American women. The new revisions seek to improve tribal jurisdiction by increasing tribal governments’ ability to govern and to bring perpetrators to justice.
Not only are Native American women often the subject of domestic abuse and rape, but reports state that sexual predators travel to reservations with the specific intent to rape. Because the 1978 US Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for tribal courts to try non-Native Americans without Congress’ consent, sexual offenders are rarely brought to justice. In Minnesota, accounts of violence against women living in tribal communities increase during hunting season, as non-Native American perpetrators take advantage of immunity from prosecution. Lisa Brunner, an advocate for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in the Native American community, had this to say about sexual predators at Native American reservations:
“I call it hunting – non-natives come here hunting. They know they can come into our lands and rape us with impunity because they know that we can’t touch them. The US government has created that atmosphere.”
To better understand the injustices faced by Native American and Alaskan Native (NA/AN) women, read these staggering facts:
- NA/AN women suffer from a 50% higher rate of domestic violence and physical assault than the next highest demographic.
- A 2006 study revealed that 96% of NA/AN women were victims of rape, sexual assault, and/or physical abuse.
- NA/AN women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than non-natives.
- More than 1 in 3 NA/AN women will be raped during her lifetime.
- 86% of rapes and sexual assaults against NA/AN women cases are committed by non-Natives.
- NA/AN victims of sexual and family violence are more likely than all other races to be injured and need hospital care.
- Most NA/AN women do not report sexual crimes because they believe nothing will be done.
- 17% of NA/AN women have been stalked in their lifetime.
- Between 2005 and 2009, 67% of tribal sexual abuse cases sent to the federal government were declined.
- On some reservations, women are murdered at a rate 10 times the national average.
Regarding the potential to experience sexual violence, one young Native American woman said:
“When I’m raped, we won’t report it, because we know nothing will happen. We don’t want to cause problems for our family.”
Huffington Post’s “Violence Against Women Act Includes New Protections for Native American Women.”
The New York Times’ “Rape on the Reservation.”
Futures Without Violence’s “The Facts on Violence Against American Indian/Alaskan Native Women.”