Native, Indian Women Face Higher Rates of Sexual Assault

Jun 6, 2007

American Indian and Alaska Native women are more than two and a half times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the U.S. in general, and one in three Native women will be raped in their lifetimes, a new report from Amnesty International finds. The federal government has created substantial barriers to accessing justice for Native women, concludes “Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA.”

The new report also finds that there are not enough trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) at Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities to provide forensic exams, and there is a greater chance that law enforcement will mishandle evidence when rape kits are used. Often Native women do not get a timely – if any – response from police or a forensic medical exam, and may never see their cases prosecuted.

A complex maze of tribal, state and federal jurisdictions can allow perpetrators to rape with impunity. Tribal governments have no criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians when a crime is committed. Native women are forced to establish the location of the crime and identify the perpetrator to determine which authorities have jurisdiction. Then tribal police and their non-Indian counterparts must determine whether the suspect is Indian or not, before the crime can be prosecuted, losing precious time and often leading to inadequate investigations or a complete failure to respond.

The report recommends that Congress: fully fund the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), particularly Title IX, the Tribal Title which is the first effort within VAWA to stop violence against Native women; increase funding for the IHS to increase the number of SANEs so that survivors can receive timely forensic medical examinations; and recognize tribal authorities’ jurisdiction over all offenders who commit crimes on tribal land. It also recommends that federal and state governments consult and cooperate with tribal nations to institute effective plans to stop sexual violence against Native women.

The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reported late last year that, while nonfatal intimate partner violence dropped significantly in the U.S. from 1993 to 2004, it remained highest for Native females during that period. More than 86 percent of sexual assaults against Native women are carried out by non-native men.

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