From: Subject: NSVRC -- Sexual Assault in Indian Country Date: Tue, 3 Feb 2009 09:42:31 -0500 MIME-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: text/html; charset="Windows-1252" Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable Content-Location: X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V6.00.2900.5579 NSVRC -- Sexual Assault in Indian Country

Sexual Assault in Indian Country
Confronting = Sexual=20 Violence

National Sexual = Violence Resource=20 Center
A project of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against = Rape

The=20 NSVRC is funded by the Centers for
Disease Control and=20 Prevention
Atlanta, GA

This publication was supported by Grant/Coordination Agreement = Number=20 H28/CCU317184-02 from the Centers for Disease Control and = Prevention. Its=20 contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not=20 necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for = Disease=20 Control and Prevention.

Terms and Abbreviations:

Indian Country denotes the broad, heterogeneous community = of Native=20 American peoples living on or near reservations.

American Indians, Native Americans, indigenous peoples, and = native=20 populations are used interchangeably throughout this document = to=20 denote the native peoples of continental US and Alaska. The term = Alaskan=20 Natives is also used, either in conjunction with other native = groups or=20 separately to denote the native populations of Alaska.

BIA denotes the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

BJS denotes the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

"PL 280 States" refers to states of the United States = that have=20 been given federal legal jurisdiction in Indian Country as a = result of=20 Public Law 83-280.

STOP Program refers to the Services, Training, Officers, = Prosecutors program funded under the Violence Against Women Act of = the=20 1994 Federal Crime Control Legislation.

Copyright =A9 2000 by the National Sexual = Violence=20 Resource Center

The content of this publication may be = reprinted=20 with the following acknowledgment: "This material was reprinted = from=20 the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's publication = entitled,=20 Sexual Assault In Indian Country, Confronting Sexual Violence."

This pamphlet is available in large print, = text only=20 format on our website:

Sexual Assault In Indian Country

American Indian/Alaskan Native populations experience sexual = assault=20 and violent victimization at an alarmingly high rate. In fact, the = reported rate of violent crime in Indian Country is well above all = other=20 ethnic groups and more than twice the national average. = (American=20 Indians and Crime: 1999)

Although the prevalence of violent crimes has been = well-documented, it=20 has been very difficult to document the magnitude of sexual = assault.=20 However, a fairly consistent understanding has emerged among some = Native=20 Americans, service providers and national researchers that the = rate of=20 sexual assault in Indian Country is not only disturbingly high, = but much=20 higher than is captured by existing statistics. Although = differences in=20 the degree of violence and sexual abuse exist from tribe to tribe, = the=20 overall picture remains compelling. Due to a lack of certain kinds = of=20 data, and the difficulty required in obtaining a solid statistical = overview, we do not have clear documentation of the extent of the = problem.=20

This pamphlet addresses sexual assault in Indian Country by=20 highlighting certain types of sexual assault evidence and by = presenting it=20 within the historical treatment of native populations, = jurisdictional=20 problems and the prevalence of violence. It is our hope that this = pamphlet=20 will promote public awareness of this profound problem and draw = needed=20 attention to the lack of adequate support and concern for this = highly=20 underserved population.

Estimates of the American Indian/Alaskan Native population = range from=20 approximately 1.5 to 2 million. There are approximately 550 = federally=20 recognized Indian tribes and Alaskan Native groups, speaking more = than 250=20 languages. Tribal nations maintain separate cultures, customs, = languages=20 and histories and should be thought of as a heterogeneous = population.=20 Once, Indian nations lived, hunted and farmed over the entire = United=20 States. Today, they are located on reservations and/or = individually held=20 lands covering approximately 50 million acres.

A Legacy of Peace Shattered

Historically, violence among indigenous peoples was rare = because they=20 believed it to be unnatural and a threat to harmony. Incidents of=20 violence, when they did occur, carried harsh consequences, often=20 banishment. (Artichoker & Mousseau: 1993) According to the BJS = report,=20 American Indians and Crime, the average annual violent = crime rate=20 among American Indians is about 2.5 times the national rate. Much = of the=20 violence has been directed toward women, and nearly one-third of = the=20 victims are between the ages of 18 and 24. (American Indians = and=20 Crime: 1999)

The treatment of American Indians by colonists, the government = and=20 settlers reveals a history of decimation by disease and war, = racism,=20 exploitation of resources, seizure of lands, forced migration,=20 introduction of alcohol, and the establishment of oppressive and = coercive=20 policies such as the boarding school and land allotment programs = which=20 have together detrimentally affected the traditional values of = Native=20 peoples. The federally sanctioned boarding school experience, = which began=20 in the 19th Century, removed Indian children from their homes and = placed=20 them in boarding schools where many were sexually assaulted or = molested by=20 caretakers. (Gonzales: 1999)

Moving from a mostly peaceful culture to one marked by violence = occurred over time and must be attributed to many factors. A = history of=20 surviving within an oppressive dominant society led to a state of=20 internalized oppression. The white man undermined the existing = culture and=20 imposed his own beliefs and judgments. Native Americans = internalized many=20 of these values and opinions, which both devalued their culture = and=20 promoted a kind of self-hatred and internalized racism. The = systematic=20 oppression of native cultures included a particular degradation of = native=20 women. In "Violence And The American Indian Woman", Paula Gunn = Allen=20 asserts that conquest of the tribes by Anglo-Europeans was = accompanied by=20 "the conquests and degradation of Indian women by men, Indian and=20 otherwise."

The racism experienced by American Indians, although sometimes = subtle,=20 often took the form of open "Indian-hating". It laid the = foundation for=20 conquest and colonization by portraying them as savages, heathens, = primitives, childish, murderous and drunken. In addition to = serving as a=20 justification for the wholesale oppression of Indian peoples, the = racism=20 functioned as emotional and cultural abuse. According to Allen and = other=20 researchers, this devaluing of the existing cultures has = engendered=20 severely lowered self-esteem among Indian peoples. (Allen: = 1985)

The introduction of alcohol accompanied the onslaught into = Indian=20 lands; the widespread use of alcohol by Native Americans remains a = debilitating legacy of colonization. As among other groups, there = is a=20 high positive correlation between alcohol use and violent crimes. = However,=20 American Indians and Crime reported that the 1997 arrest = rates=20 for alcohol-related offenses among American Indians was more than = double=20 that found among all races. (American Indians and Crime: = 1999)=20 The introduction of alcohol was a major contributing factor to = "the abuse=20 of both Indian women and children by Indian men." (Allen: = 1985)

History records the repeated economic exploitation of native = peoples by=20 means of seizure of land, forced migration, depletion of = life-sustaining=20 herds, and exclusion from educational and business opportunities. = As a=20 result, most Native Americans live in a state of poverty, with 40% = in=20 rural settings. The health and emotional cost of poverty further = increases=20 the demoralization, adding to a sense of helplessness. According = to the=20 BIA, Native Americans "experience an extreme lack of economic=20 opportunities and lower than average quality of life when measured = against=20 the dominant society." BIA reports that unemployment on Indian=20 reservations averages about 37%. Unemployment rates as high as 65% = to 85%=20 have been estimated for certain regions of Indian Country.

Although some tribal governments are working, often in very = creative=20 ways, to network with each other and address some of these = devastating=20 conditions, many American Indians remain concerned for their = safety.

In order to understand the high rate of sexual assault in = Indian=20 Country perpetrated against women, one must first see how the = historical=20 treatment of native populations has transformed the lives of = traditionally=20 peaceful peoples to an existence often marked by crime and = impoverishment.=20 Despite some efforts by tribal governments to deal with this = reality,=20 Native Americans continue to face oppressive conditions, and for = far too=20 many native women, victimization has become internalized, and = sexual abuse=20 has become commonplace.

"Scream the bloody truth of how we've been raped in every = possible way,=20 and then rise up and dig the beauty of our people. Rejoice in our = survival=20 and our ways."
Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree)

Confronting the Reality of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault in Indian Country must be understood within the = context=20 of the prevalence of violence and in conjunction with the effects = of=20 historical oppression and complicated jurisdictional issues. = (See Page=20 6, The Governance of Indian Country) Together these factors = have=20 negatively impacted sexual assault victims by increasing their = mistrust,=20 by offering disincentives for reporting and often by providing = little=20 recourse for timely justice.


The average annual violent crime rate among American Indians is = approximately 2.5 times higher than the national rate. Rates of = violence=20 in every age group are higher among American Indians than that of = all=20 races.
The average annual rate of rape and sexual assault = among=20 American Indians is 3.5 times higher than for all races.
At = least=20 70% of the violent victimization experienced by American Indians = is=20 committed by persons not of the same race.
-American Indians = and=20 Crime, BJS


It is most common for victims of rape and sexual assault to not = report=20 the crime to police, and often to no one. According to the BJS, = over 70%=20 of sexual assaults are not reported. This national perspective for = reporting magnifies the fact that in Indian Country, the rate of = violent=20 crime is 2.5 times greater, and the rape and sexual assault rate = is 3.5=20 times greater. (American Indians and Crime: 1999) In = fact, in the=20 category of rape, the National Violence Against Women Survey = indicated a=20 15.9 percent victimization rate of American Indians/Alaskan = Natives by an=20 intimate partner. This is significantly higher than for women of = other=20 races. (Tjaden & Thoennes: 2000)


For Native Americans, who for generations internalized both = social and=20 personal oppression, reporting an assault can be extremely = difficult. Many=20 have a high level of mistrust for white agencies and helpers. = Furthermore,=20 native women often fear being ostracized by their families. = Perhaps most=20 relevant to non-reporting are the disincentives and difficulties=20 associated with the legal system that places service and justice = behind=20 jurisdictional determination. Before taking any legal action, an = Indian=20 woman must first consider the likelihood for justice, reprisals or = inaction by the system. Joyce Gonzales in Native American = Survivors=20 asserts that most Native Americans do not report sexual trauma. = (Gonzales:=20 1999)


Complicated jurisdictional issues (See Page 6, Governance of = Indian=20 Country) have often provided a justification for investigative = and=20 prosecuting officials to ignore sexual assaults. (Deer: 1997) The=20 jurisdictional confusion also negatively impacts reporting and = consistent=20 record keeping, thereby obscuring a clear picture of the extent of = sexual=20 assault.

The following excerpts and quotations portray the sexual = assault of=20 Indian women.

"Domestic violence and sexual abuse among Native Americans have = become=20 a problem of epidemic proportions that effects both old and young. = Sexual=20 assault and domestic violence are so widespread in Indian Country = that=20 spousal abuse is occurring in younger and younger couples and it = is not=20 uncommon for date rape or date physical abuse to occur among=20 teenagers."
Charon Asetoyer,
Seminole Tribune, June = 17,=20 1999

"In a 1998 broad spectrum survey of 45 American Indian women in = urban=20 areas and reservations in northern California, 27% reported being = raped,=20 and 11% reported being raped in the last year."
Marcia=20 Chaiken
Research Director, LINC

"It is commonly known throughout Indian Country that 90% of = Indian=20 women in chemical dependency treatment are victims of rape and = childhood=20 sexual abuse."
Terri Henry (Cherokee)
Clan Star

"In the fall of 1979 the Navajo Times reported that rape was = the number=20 one crime in the Navajo Nation. "
Paula Gunn = Allen
Violence And=20 The American Indian Woman

"In a study by the American Indian Women's Chemical Health = Project, 75%=20 of the Indian women surveyed reported having experienced some type = of=20 sexual assault in their lives."
Nancy Hawkins et al. =
American=20 Indian Women's Chemical Health Project

(AP Anchorage) "The Alaska Native Women Sexual Assault = Committee was=20 formed in January 1999 after the Federal Bureau of Investigation = again=20 ranked Alaska No. 1 for rape. The ranking came as no surprise. = Alaska has=20 topped that crime category about two-thirds of the time over the = past two=20 decades."
Mary Pemberton AP
September 25, 2000

A mental health worker for Indian Health Service reported, "It = is the=20 expert opinion of this writer after a records review and talking = to many=20 other health care providers, that rape, sexual assault and incest = occur at=20 a much higher incidence than generally thought." Sexual abuse at a = young=20 age is quite frequent and almost always involves a relative such = as a=20 father, brother, cousin, uncle or grandfather."
Phyllis Old = Cross Dog=20
Listening Post, IHS

"Native advocates across the country are expressing a growing = consensus=20 that rape is a far too common experience for native women. It's = equally=20 clear that tribal, state and federal institutions that have a=20 responsibility to respond have not prioritized the = issue."
Karen=20 Artichoker (Oglala)
Director, Sacred Circle

The Governance of Indian Country: A Jurisdictional Maze

Although social-cultural entities, federally recognized tribes = also=20 exist as political sovereigns with respect to the US Government. = Federally=20 recognized tribes maintain government-to-government relationships, = and as=20 governments, tribes can make and enforce their own laws. However, = two=20 hundred years of tribal-federal contact have greatly reduced = tribal=20 authority in certain areas. Over time, confusion over = jurisdictional lines=20 has developed, making it difficult for victims to find legal = recourse that=20 is accessible, timely and just.

In 1885, the United States passed the Major Crimes Act = which=20 initiated the first major intervention into Indian Country justice = systems; it specified certain lines between federal and tribal = authority=20 regarding civil and criminal jurisdictions, but in some cases = blurred=20 tribal jurisdictional authority. According to Sarah Deer of the US = DOJ=20 Violence Against Women Office, the impact of the Act "has been an=20 inconsistent ability of tribal judicial systems to protect women = members.=20 Especially in cases involving Indian women, police may often = ignore crimes=20 of abuse on the pretext of jurisdictional uncertainties." (Deer: = 1997)

Ultimately, jurisdiction has to do with type of crime, the race = of=20 perpetrator and victim, and location of crime. The issue of race=20 exemplifies the problem; if both victim and perpetrator are = Indian, major=20 crimes may fall under federal and/or tribal jurisdiction; if a = non-Indian=20 perpetrator and Indian victim, the jurisdiction is federal; if = both the=20 victim and perpetrator are non-Indians, the jurisdiction belongs = to the=20 state. Generally, most major crimes fall within the federal scope = and=20 misdemeanors are tribal. Tribal courts have no criminal = jurisdiction over=20 non-Indians.

In 1953, the situation became more complicated with the = enactment of=20 Public Law 280. It transferred federal criminal jurisdiction in = Indian=20 Country to certain states. It gave concurrent jurisdiction to = tribes and=20 to "280 states" in both investigation and prosecution. Initially = conferred=20 on six states, PL 280 also allowed other states an opportunity to = apply=20 for this jurisdiction, without agreement of the tribal = governments. Since=20 the law was amended in 1968, partly to prohibit this situation = from=20 occurring without tribal consent, there has been almost no = expansion of PL=20 280 jurisdiction.

Consequences of jurisdictional determination and overlap:=20

  • Record keeping is poor and uncoordinated among federal, = state and=20 local prosecutors, law enforcement officials, tribal officials = and=20 service providers.=20
  • Reporting can compromise the victim's safety. Victims grow = to feel=20 increasingly helpless about reporting and fearful of reprisals.=20
  • The confusion over jurisdiction often hinders the chances = for timely=20 and effective investigations and prosecutions.=20
  • Violators and perpetrators come to understand that, even if = they are=20 arrested, prosecution and punishment may not occur, or may carry = minimal=20 consequences.

A survey conducted by Mending the Sacred Hoop vividly = exemplifies the=20 inconsistent, irregular and uncoordinated nature of record keeping = for=20 sexual assault. This survey, which polled the 131 STOP programs, = had 22=20 responses. To the question of "Who in your community gathers = statistical=20 information on sexual assault, the respondents provided this array = of=20 answers:

Law Enforcement, Courts and Victims
Law Enforcement = /Stop=20 Grant
Tribal Police
DA's Office
No=20 one
D.V. Program Director
County SA Program / = Sheriff's=20 Office
Law Enforcement
Sheriff's Office / Tribal = Police
Tribal=20 Police
No one
Tribal Police / Tribal Prosecution
No = one
Clinic=20 / County Sheriff's Office
No one
Tribal Police, DA's = Office
Rape=20 Crisis Team
Law Enforcement
No one
Tribal Police

In the areas of sexual assault, jurisdictional confusion and = overlap=20 make it particularly difficult for everyone involved. Federal, = state,=20 local, and tribal law enforcement officials must all try to = navigate the=20 murky jurisdictional waters. A crime committed in Indian Country = can be=20 subject to investigation by local law enforcement, consisting of = Tribal=20 and/or BIA police, or state troopers, and/or Federal law = enforcement=20 personnel from the BIA or the FBI. In some cases, the difficulty = over=20 determination of criminal jurisdiction, particularly when there = may be=20 concurrent jurisdictions, promotes apathy among officials that can = translate into untimely action, or none at all. Victims and = service=20 providers must also consider their rights and opportunities for = justice=20 before engaging a path of action.

The jurisdictional maze hampers the delivery of justice and = carries=20 heavy consequences for victims, service providers and for = obtaining a=20 realistic picture of sexual assault in Indian Country.

"We do not intend to commit crimes. If there's a crime against = looking=20 for justice, where do we go to find justice here in = America?"
Gladys=20 Bissonette (Oglala Sioux)

An Underserved Population

Clearly, violent victimization, internalized oppression, and=20 complicated issues of jurisdictional determination have all placed = American Indian women at particular risk for sexual abuse both = from=20 non-Indians and Indians. Non-Indians commit about 70% of the = reported=20 crimes against American Indians. (American Indians & Crime: = 1999)=20 Other evidence points to widespread sexual assault by a relative = or family=20 member. Most of these assaults are not reported. This reflects the = difficulty associated with speaking out about family crimes that = are=20 likely to be met with denial or shame, and is reinforced by = distrust of=20 non-native agencies. (Gonzales: 1999)

The atrocities that occurred within Indian Country have led to=20 significant underreporting and high rates of sexual abuse. = However,=20 underreporting does not solely explain the lack of services going = to=20 sexual assault victims. Most of the monies that have gone into = Indian=20 Country under the Violence Against Women Act have gone into = programs and=20 shelters that fall more broadly into the category of violence = which has=20 provided little separate attention for the unique needs of the = sexually=20 assaulted.

Perhaps the most significant reason for native women being = underserved=20 is due to our lack of awareness of the extent, costs and = devastation of=20 the sexual violence. We are dealing with growing tolerance of = abuse by=20 victims and community, apathy by many officials, and lack of real=20 awareness by government. In short, we have not confronted the = crimes of=20 sexual assault perpetrated so consistently against Indian women. =

"Little documentation detailing the present extent of sexual = assault of=20 Indian women exists. Major contributing factors for the lack of = available=20 data include the low priority society gives this problem, limited = funding=20 for research and the lack of reporting by Indian women fearful of = the=20 treatment they will receive from the criminal justice system."=20
Non-Stranger Sexual Assault In Indian = Country
Bonnie=20 Clairmont (Ho Chunk)

Confronting Sexual Violence

In order to confront crimes of sexual violence, a clearer = understanding=20 of their extent in Indian Country must become a priority. = Statistics,=20 research and resources must form the foundation for this task. A = number of=20 national organizations and agencies consider the problem of = obtaining a=20 clearer picture of the extent of sexual assault in Indian Country = to be a=20 kind of "chicken or egg" problem. In order to document the = problem,=20 resources and research must be forthcoming, and in order to obtain = the=20 resources and conduct the research, the severity of the problem = must be=20 justified and documented.

Any serious research in this area should consider many of the=20 complexities highlighted in this pamphlet which imply a = methodology that=20 includes promoting awareness among Indian women in conjunction = with=20 careful investigation at the grassroots level, among the tribes = and local=20 service providers. Culturally sensitive research methods must be=20 reinforced with culturally competent investigators. Some = researchers have=20 noted that it is most likely that differential amounts and = patterns of=20 abuse exist among different tribes. Investigation of these = differences=20 could offer researchers valuable insights.

In order to obtain justice and services, society must assure = Indian=20 women who are victims of sexual assault that sexual violence will = not be=20 tolerated, that they have a right to speak out and that their = voices will=20 be heard.

"As a faint voice echoing
In a canyon, in = an abyss=20
Of cries we do not hear."

The NSVRC invites responses=20 and comments to this pamphlet as well as any resources or = information=20 relevant to this topic.


Allen, Paula Gunn, " Violence And The American Indian Woman,"=20 Center for Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence = Newsletter=20 Vol 5, No.4, April 1985, p 5-7.

Artichoker, Karen & Mousseau, Marlin, "Violence Against = Oglala=20 Women is Not Traditional," Cangleska Inc. 1993.

Asetoyer, Charon, "Public Denial, Private Pain," The = Seminole=20 Tribune, 02-04-94; VXVI; N13 p 3.

Chaiken, Marcia, "Violence Against Women and Girls in Indian = Country:=20 Northern California Patterns, Reactions and Community = Recommendations,"=20 LINC, M Chaiken Director of Research, funded by NIJ, grant = #95IJCX0047,=20 February 26, 1999.

Chester, Barbara, et. al. "Grandmother Dishonored: Violence = Against=20 Women by Male Partners in American Indian Communities," = Violence and=20 Victims, Vol 9 No. 3, 1994 p 249-259.

Choney, Sandra K. et. al. "The Acculturation of American = Indians,=20 Developing Frameworks for Research and Practice," Handbook of=20 Multicultural Counseling, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, = 1995.

Clairmont, Bonnie, "Non-Stranger Sexual Assault In Indian = Country,"=20 National Non-Stranger Sexual Assault Symposium: Proceedings = Report, Estes=20 Park, CO; September 14-17, 1999.

Deer, Sarah, Draft document prepared in support of changes to = federal=20 legislation 3rd Year, University of Kansas, School of Law, = 1997.

Gonzales, Joyce, "Native American Survivors," Support for = Survivors=20 Manual, California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 1999 p.=20 257-259.

Greenfeld, Lawrence A. & Smith, Steven K. American = Indians and=20 Crime, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice, = Department of=20 Justice, February 1999 NCJ173386.

Hawkins, Nancy, et. al., American Indian Women's Chemical = Health=20 Project, Chemical Dependency Division, Dept. of Human = Services, State=20 of Minnesota, 1993.

Henry, Terri, "Tribal Responses To Violence Against Women,"=20 Presentation to Federal Bar Association Conference, Indian Law = Section,=20 Albuquerque, NM, April 2, 1998.

"Improving Tribal/Federal Prosecution of Child Sexual Abuse = Cases=20 Through Agency Cooperation", OVC Bulletin, Office of = Victims of=20 Crime, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice.

Katz, Jane B. Editor, I Am the Fire of Time, The Voices of = Native=20 American Women, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1977.

Pemberton, Mary, "Police, Native Groups Working Together To = Reduce=20 Rapes," Associated Press, September 25, 2000, Anchorage = AL.

"Providing Services to Native American Survivors", VAASA = Fact=20 Sheet, Virginians Aligned Against Sexual Assault.

O'Brian, Sharon, American Indian Tribal Governments, = Norman,=20 OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.

Reina, Edward, Jr. "Domestic Violence in Indian Country: A = Dilemma of=20 Justice," Domestic Violence Report, Vol 5, No. 3, = February/March=20 2000, p 33-48.

Tjaden, Patricia & Thoennes, Nancy, Research In Brief:=20 Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women: = Findings=20 From the National Violence Against Women Survey, NIJ, Centers = for=20 Disease Control and Prevention, November, 1998.

_______, Extent, Nature and Consequences of Intimate = Partner=20 Violence, Research Report, Findings From the National Violence = Against=20 Women Survey, NIJ, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention = (NIJ=20 181867) July, 2000.

US Department of the Interior, On the Web, Bureau of Indian = Affairs,=20, Date of Mod: 2/22/98; Date of = Access,=20 9/23/00.