While domestic violence and sexual assault is an issue we in the feminist community are familiar with, we sometimes tend to leave some people out of the conversation. For example, what ethnicity do you think has the highest rate of violence against women?
Chances are you might not have even thought to guess Native American women. Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races.
That leaves statistics to say 1 in 3 Native American women have been sexually assaulted. Also, in a 2008 CDC study, 39% of Native women surveyed identified as victims of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, a rate higher than any other race or ethnicity surveyed. However, with an under reporting of crimes to tribal authorities and complications when assaults involve non- Native Americans, these numbers are not even as accurate as they could be. The Washington Post explains,
For decades, when a Native American woman has been assaulted or raped by a man who is non-Indian, she has had little or no recourse. Under long-standing law in Indian country, reservations are sovereign nations with their own police departments and courts in charge of prosecuting crimes on tribal land.
However, with advancements in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), three Native American tribes this week launched programs that now give them the legal jurisdiction to prosecute domestic violence crimes involving non- Native Americans with Native American women. This is a huge step toward bringing cases to light and getting them through the legal system. The US Department of Justice announced the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona, the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon have all met requirements to implement legal provisions for the law. While other tribes need to wait until 2015 to start using this law, it is a great step toward providing visibility for Native American women. There are still complications to be worked out, but many say the new law “is a ray of hope. Maybe we can start protecting people and having the tribal members who live here on the reservation feel like something will be done.”