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Friday, May 25, 2012

No Justice: A Look at Domestic Violence Against Native American Women

By Carmen Rivera

In the United States, Native American women are the demographic group that is most often the victim of violence, both domestic and otherwise. Many officials are
calling for expanded forensic nursing research in Native American communities
and thus, an increasing number of people are doing both traditional and
onlineforensic nursing programs. However, the real cure to this endemic problem may not be increased investigation efforts.

According to the Dart Center for Journalism, one in three Native American women will be
raped within her lifetime. And, according to reporting done by the
Organization for Women
, Native American women are victims of violence at rates that are three and a half times that of the national average for women.

A study done by the National Institute of Justice, entitled Violence
Against Indian Women
, demonstrates that many assaults of Native American women are related to the perpetrator’s abuse of alcohol. Additionally, few victims seek assistance. Women who were surveyed as part of the study stated that if they were a victim of
violence, they would be uncomfortable seeking help from authorities because they
would not want to ostracize their spouse. This is often because many tribal
authorities, and sometimes even abuse counselors, are known to be abusers
themselves, and therefore these individuals would have no interest in addressing
the problem.

Additionally, according to women who participated in a focus group, there is
limited awareness
of the extent of violence within the Native American community, because there exists a cultural dissuasion from openly discussing it. This limited awareness also prevents women from reporting violence or seeking help. Lastly, there is no infrastructure for men and perpetrators of violence to seek counseling
or assistance
, something that the women who participated in the study stress is also important going forward.

Moreover,this cycle of violence is exacerbated by poor or ineffective law enforcement,
particularly because of the jurisdictional problems related to Native American
reservations. Reservations have their own police force, that is expected to
respond to complaints about violence or assault. However, according to the
National Organization for Women, many of these officers do not take Native
American females’ complaints seriously, nor do they not follow up on them.
Moreover, according to law, reservation police are only able to prosecute fellow
Native Americans – which means that if a non-Native American were to abuse a
female, it would become a federal case. And, in fact, seventy percent of
violence committed against Native American women is committed by non-Native

Yet, the federal government seldom takes the initiative to prosecute these
individuals. This failure to prosecute has reached such epidemic proportions
that Attorney General Eric Holder recently formed a federal task force, the
Violence Against Women Federal and Tribal Prosecution Task Force as a way to
address the problem.

In recognition of the particular problems facing Native American women, congress
has added language to the Violence Against Women Act to specifically assist
Native American women by giving tribal prosecutors more power. The new language
in the act would also add protections for female members of the gay and
transgender community and female illegal immigrants. However,
to the Huffington Post
, because of these provisions, Republicans are currently unwilling to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and claim that such additional measures are the result of Democrats’ “scheming.” Therefore, whether the act is ultimately reauthorized is an open question, as is the level of commitment by the Federal Government to stop this problem.

Carmen Rivera is a freelance writer who is passionate about building universally safe communities. Shoot her an email if you ever want to discuss an article