More than 4 out of 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women—and men—have experienced violence—specifically sexual violence, physical violence by intimate partners, stalking, and psychological aggression by intimate partners—in their lifetimes, according to estimates in a new report from the National Institute of Justice, an arm of the U.S. Justice Department.
More than half (56.1 percent) of AIAN women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes and almost all of them (96 percent) have experienced sexual violence perpetrated by someone not of their own race. Among AIAN men, 1 in 4 has experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes. Again, almost all (89 percent) have experienced sexual violence committed by a person not of their race.
This report—“Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men: 2010 Findings from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey”—differs from other analyses of violence in Indian country in that it is based on a large nationwide survey (the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), whereas most other estimates are based on much smaller, local surveys.
Information was collected from 2,473 adult (over 18) women and 1,505 adult men who identified themselves as American Indian or Alaska Native, alone or in combination with another racial group. Fifty-four percent of respondents lived within reservation boundaries or in Alaska Native villages.
Nonetheless, even this report may underestimate violence in Indian country. The survey was conducted by telephone in English and Spanish. People who did not have telephones, or who were not allowed to answer the telephone or respond to the survey questions, could not participate, nor could people who spoke only an indigenous language. No information was collected regarding online enticement or human trafficking, and other forms of violence, such as mugging, robbery or car-jacking, were not included.
Report author André B. Rosay, director of the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center, said, “We can’t say for sure [that these estimates are low], but I think that’s a reasonable hypothesis, though this survey is probably more accurate [than some others] because it asked behaviorally specific questions [using words such as punched, kicked or slapped] rather than questions about specific crimes [assault, for example].”
The report compares violence experienced by the AIAN population with violence experienced by non-Hispanic whites. AIAN women are, for example, 1.7 times as likely to experience sexual violence with penetration than are non-Hispanic white women.
However, there is not a statistically significant difference between the percentage of AIAN women (56.1 percent) who have been victimized by sexual violence and the percentage of non-Hispanic white women (49.7 percent) who have been so victimized.
Which brings into focus the prevalence of violence against women nationally and around the world. This report does not address the question of what percentage of women (or men) in the U.S. are victims of violence overall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, based on the same survey, that “more than 1 in 3 women (35.6 percent) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5 percent) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
The organization UN Women estimates that “35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives.”
A 2014 study of violence against women in the European Union found that “one in three women has experienced some form of physical and/or sexual assault since the age of 15.” Forty-three percent of respondents had “experienced some form of psychological violence by either a current or a previous partner.”
A fundamental difficulty here is that no two definitions of violence are identical. For example, the CDC numbers do not include psychological aggression by intimate partners, the UN numbers do include female genital mutilation and human trafficking, and the EU numbers include sexual harassment, to name just a few of the differences.
So while exact comparisons are not possible, the numbers indicate that violence in general and particularly violence against women is a widespread, global human rights abuse.
In Indian country, violence is particularly hard to deal with because of jurisdictional complexities and inadequate law enforcement resources. “Despite having high rates
of interracial victimizations, Indian tribes had no authority to criminally prosecute non-Indian offenders, even for crimes committed in Indian country,” reads the report. “This created a jurisdictional gap that provided immunity to non-Indian offenders and compromised the safety of Indian women and men. To partially correct this problem, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 provided special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction to Indian tribes.”
The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 also returned to tribes some of their inherent authority to police their own communities. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, has introduced legislation to reauthorize and enhance the TLOA.
The National Institute of Justice has implemented the Tribal Study of Public Safety and Public Health Issues Facing American Indian and Alaska Native Women, referred to as the National Baseline Study in tribal communities in the lower 48 states and Alaska. The study is expected to wrap up next year with results presented the following year.