First Women, Last Protected
By Gianna Francesca Vescio
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
The United States’ relationship with Indigenous communities is fraught with a history of abuse and neglect. From broken promises and slaughter to forced migrations and assimilations, Native Americans have long been viewed as obstacles by settlers and the United States government. But their apathy did not end with conquest. Today, it is perhaps most evident in the treatment of Native American women, faced with disproportionately high rates of violence and the lack of legal protections available to them.
The statistics are grim. The homicide rates for Native women are ten times higher than the national average. It is the third highest cause of death amongst 10- to 24-year-olds and fifth for 25- to 34-year-olds. This amounts to four out of five Native women in the United States being affected by violence in some way.1 But the violence does not end with homicide. Native women account for 40% of sex trafficking victims while their rates of domestic violence and physical assault far outweigh other ethnicities. In a CDC survey, Native women accounted for the highest percentage of respondents identifying as victims of intimate partner violence at 39% while the US Department of Justice reports that at least 70% of violent assaults on Native women were committed by someone of another race.3
So, why are these numbers so high? Why does violence plague Native women and their communities at such disproportionate rates? At least part of the fault lies in the United States government. For many years, Native Nations were not able to prosecute non-Natives, despite their involvement in the vast majority of crimes against Native women. Furthermore, U.S. attorneys turn down most cases involving crimes against Native women,4 and tribal communities are not equipped to deal with these issues. They lack the laws to fight problems like sex trafficking.2 Without proper law enforcement, there is no deterrent for criminals or safe way for victims to find help.
According to initiatives by organizations such as Indian Law, the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, and National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, the path to protecting Native women requires changes to national and tribal laws and an increase in community awareness. National law must expand to include Native women and eliminate discrimination in law enforcement. Meanwhile, while some tribal nations, including the Navajo, have adopted policies such as the Violence Against Women Act, all nations need to follow suit. These policies create a dialogue around human trafficking and assault that not only allow the community to identify warning signs but give victims a pathway to protection.2
Violence is not where the hardships for Indigenous women end. Poverty, lack of access to healthcare, discrimination in the workforce, fetishization, and substance abuse are inextricably linked to violence against Native women. True protection can only be achieved when Native women are given the same opportunities and security as White Americans.
In the next issue, our discussion of intersectionality will continue by delving into the stigma affecting immigrant women from Central and South America and their first-generation children.
2Why Traffickers Go After Native American Women - FreedomUnited.org
3Microsoft Word - AI AN Fact Sheet 2012 FINAL.docx (futureswithoutviolence.org)
4Ending Violence Against Native Women | Indian Law Resource Center