Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sexual violence in Native American and Alaska Native communities

Native American women. Yeah, we've suffered. I'd say most of the women in my family have survived sexual violence and all the people in my family have been affected by it.

I was supposed to provide some resources demonstrating how sexual violence affects indigenous women in our country for an event that Olives put on a few days ago. Unfortunately, I was unable to speak with anyone or find the kinds of resources I wanted to on this issue in time for the event. Now that I have found some things, I'll share them here.

"Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the United States in general. More than one in three Native women will be raped in their lifetimes. In at least 86% of reported cases of rape or sexual assault against Native American and Alaska Native women, the perpetrators are non-native men. The US government has created a complex maze of tribal, state, and federal jurisdictions that often allow perpetrators to rape with impunity. Sexual violence against indigenous women is also the result of a history of human rights violations against Indigenus people in the US. Indigenous women were raped by settlers and soldiers as a tool of conquest and colonization. Impunity for perpetrators and indifference toward survivors contribute to a climate where sexual violence is seen as normal and inescapable. Native American and Alaska Native women's organizations and tribal authorities have brought forward proposals to help stop sexual violence against Indigenous women--but the federal government has failed to act. In failing to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence, the US is violating women's human rights."

(Source: Amnesty International USA)

The above text came from a slideshow at that shows Native American and Alaska Native women who have survived sexual violence. It's a really amazing webpage with a lot of information about the issue. You can watch videos made by the advocates, press conferences, and read survivors' stories.

One statistic that many people find surprising is the fact that over 86% of the perpetrators are non-native men. This is probably due to the problems with federal law and sovereignty that prevent tribal police and courts from detaining and prosecuting non-tribal members. That means, crimes committed on the reservation, including rape, by non-native people cannot be prosecuted. How is that for justice?

What also greatly disturbs me about this information is the fact that there seems to be a direct corrolation bewteen the high rate of sexual violence toward Indian women and the fact that nothing is being done to stop it. To me this means our main failure as a society is in not educating people enough around the issues of sexual violence. If the only thing stopping rape and sexual violence is the law, we are not doing enough. If men don't sexually violate women only out of fear of the legal consequences, we are failing. The laws around tribal jurisdiction need to be changed so that Indigenous women get justice. Our education needs to change so that Indigenous women and all women get justice. Women need to be empowered from a young age and educated about the options that face survivors. Women and men also need to be educated about the history of sexual violence, why it is unacceptable, why we all need to be advocates for ending this violence, and what we can do to stop it. What a revolution it would be to include this in our K-12 sex-ed programs!

That message aside, Indigenous women are still suffering sexual assualt in horrifying numbers. And I don't think that jurisdiction is the only problem. When women do survive sexual assault and can't get any justice in court, they have nowhere to turn. There are frighteningly few resources for survivors on reservations or in Urban Indian communities. I read about a place in Alaska where there is only one safe house for 500 miles in an area where not only is more than one house needed, but women do not have even the means to get to this safe house. One more quote from "The Indian Health Service (IHS) is the principle and in some areas, sole provider of health services for these women. However, despite its prevalence, IHS continues to lack consistent protocols and resources for treating sexual assault survivors."

So, I filled out one of the pre-written letters on the website to the director of IHS just because it was such a simple step. After reading all of this information I wonder how I can do more. I work in the same building as the Seattle Indian Health Board and don't even know what kind of resources they provide for sexual assault. Maybe I can get involved with the issue in Seattle and get more people involved...thanks Olives for encouraging me to look up this information for your event, sorry I didn't bring it to the actual event!


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