Sexual Assault And Intimate Partner Violence Native Communities Criminology Essay

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The rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence (IPV) among American Indian and Alaskan Eskimo (AI/AN) is roughly twice as high as it is among White women. This review will address the prevalence of sexual assault and IPV among AI/AN women and summarize the current community, federal and national based organizations resources for AI/AN women

with a focus sound interventions are providing in culturally sensitive and will examine the context in which colonization, oppression, and racism continue to reinforce violence of indigenous women. Further, this article will review interventions of direct service and discuss

context of along with the Euro-colonial relations with Native Americans.


According to the 2006 National Violence Against Women Survey, approximately 18 million women in the United States have been raped. One of every six women has been raped at some point in their lifetime. The 2007 National Crime Victimization Survey reported approximately 554,000 violent crimes were committed against women by an intimate partner in the United States. Violence against women is a public health issue with long-term negative mental and physical health consequences. The monetary impact of violence towards women also carries significant impact with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that the cost of rape, physical assaults, and stalking exceed 5.8 billion annually with 1.4 billion going toward medical and mental health services.

The complex nature of violence against women encompasses individuals across all racial/ethnic and socio-cultural lines, and while research of violence against minority women has increased significantly, there are still limitations and gaps in a broader collective understanding of this social phenomenon. Specifically, information is limited pertaining to the experiences of sexual assault and domestic violence have among minority women. In particular, the rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence (IPV) among American Indian and Alaskan Native women. NVAWS (2006) found that lifetime rape prevalence varies significantly by race and ethnicity; however, American Indian/Alaska Native women reported significantly higher rates of rape victimization over their lifetime than did women from all other racial and ethnic backgrounds

Previous research has demonstrated that when surveyed approximately 25% of women reported that they were raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabitating partner, or date at some time in their lifetime" (Tjaden and Thoennes, 2000. This breaks to approximately 1.5 million women annually. Additionally, Tjaden and Thoennes (2006) reported that women of diverse ethnic backgrounds experience sexual assault and intimate partner violence at much higher rates than those of the general population. Specifically, American Indian and Alaskan Native women face an even higher rate of aggravated assault at roughly twice that of the general population (NCAI, 2005).

Prevalence of Sexual Assault Among AI/AN Women

Although, Native American women is used as a single racial/ethnic category for this paper, it is important to note that Native Americans are a diverse population of American Indians and Alaskan Natives constituting a wide range of cultural, belief, and economic and social structures. Determining accurate rates of sexual assault among the U.S. population is difficult, typically resulting in limited information and understanding of sexual assult on a wider scope. Further, according to the BJS, 70% of sexual assaults are never reported to law enforcement. This task is even more difficult in obtaining adequate information for ethnic groups such as AIAN women. While a majority of the information is based off of anecdotal or experience, data does exists suggesting that large numbers of AIAN women are sexually assaulted. According to the NVAWS, AI/AN women, experience victimization at higher rates than any other ethnic group. Sexual assault occurs in alarming numbers in the United States with 1 out of 6 women will be victims of sexual assault and even higher numbers for Native American women. Not only do Native American women live in communities with the highest rates of sexual assault, they live in communities high levels of violence is perpetrated by non-Natives.

Resesearch has found that 50% of rapes by Native American women include injuries, whereas 30% reported by the general population. In 34% of rapes reported by Native American women the assailant used a weapon versus 11% use of weapons in the general population. Many Native women are not reporting sexual assaults nor are they presenting in medical services or rape exams (Bubar) Studies have show that victims perceptions of service providers indicate they experience judgmental comments, scruting of the victims behavior, and providers using confusing terminology (Bubar 2006)

Native women in treatment have early onset of violence reporting multiple incidences of victimization, often as young children (bubar) Approximately 54% of rapes occur before age 12. Sexual assault among tribal communities is generally left untreated creating long term serious issues from a mental health perspective. It is important to remember that there is a relationship between trauma and outcome of health. The long history of oppression coupled with stress leads to physical and mental health problems among Native people. Well documented research has found a relation between racism and sexist are related to serious psychological and physical health problrms. Lack of resources for treatment may account for high PTSD rates among Native women. Further, Native women who have been victims of sexual assault may show higher levels of long-term effects of victimization such as PTSD and other mental health problems including depression, suicide, alienation, and eating disorders. It is crucial to incorporate the trauma and oppressive policies when treating Native women. Another causal effect of violence among Native people is high usage rates of alcohol and/or drug use. Studies from researches as well as law enforcement agencies have shown that the co-factors of alcohol and crime and victimization and closely linked.

In Indian Country, the rate of violent crime (101 per 1000) is more than twice that of the national sample (41 per 1000) (American Indian and Crime). The rate of sexual assault among AIAN women (5 per 1000) was also significantly greater than the national sample (2 per 1000).. A unique characteristic of violence among Native American women is the high percentage of violence perpetrated by non-Native individuals

Research conducted by the NVAWS found that 65% of AIAN women reported that they have victims of a sexual or physical assault compared to 55% of the total NVAWS sample.

Sexual victimization that AI/AN women face is a part of the deplorable history of oppression, racism, and violence at the hands of the United States government (Hamby, 2004).

According to the National Violence Against Women Study (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006), AI/AN women experience rape by both intimate partners and strangers more than any other ethnic group in the United States. Rates of sexual assault among AIAN women were committed more frequently by a stranger or acquaintance rather than an intimate partner (American Indians). Data compiled by the Department of Justice indicates that AIAN women are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually victimized that other women in the U.S. A study conducted by the US Department of Justice reported that 34.1 percent of AIAN women will be raped during their lifetime, breaking down to more than one in three women. The comparable figure for all women in the US is less than one in five. As troubling as these figures are, the true accuracy of sexual victimization among AIAN women is unknown and may suggest that AIAN women are at an increased risk of sexual assault or other forms of violence.

History Who are American Indian or Alaskan Native Women?

Collecting data on a unique population requires understanding exactly who should be incorporated in AIAN demographics. From a Euro-colonization dominant culture perspective, it is common to refer to Native Americans as a single cultural unit and beliefs, values, and cultural practices come from one cultural group (General) The fact is that Native Americas are highly diverse and as of 2010, the US Department of Interior (DOI) recognizes 564 federal tribes and over 36 state recognized tribes, and approximately 252 languages (General) entities as well and the 2010 Census revealed that (US Bureau of the Census, 2010). The label "Native American" has errounesouly been generalized by catorgorizing nations when in fact they are distinct in culture, beliefs, and socio-economic structures.

According to the guidelines set forth by the federal government's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) an American Indian or Alaskan Native is legally defined as a individual who is a registered member of a tribe or who blood quantum is one-forth or more genetically (Department of the Interior, 2010). This level may vary with tribes setting the quantum requirements lower or higher (Hamby, 2004). 0.9% of the population identified themselves entirely as American Indian or Alaskan Native (US Census, 2010). Males and females represent roughly equal proportions of the population, 49% and 51% respectively.

While the statistical data is an important, violent behavior must be considered in its appropriate historical and contemporary settings and examine the relation of violence of indigenous people as the colonization of Native America and the devastating impact upon indigenous people. As a result of colonization, native women who were once valued in their community role are now living lives filled with illness, violence and early death. (Napoli)

Colonization refers to a dominate group initiating a system to change or elimate the laws, customs, and beliefs of a community. The relationship between the dominant group and colonized community is characterized by psychological and structural forces that is reflected in the in the dominate institutions, policies, and history of the colonizers.

For the most part, as Europeans settled into North America the crude practice of racial genocide, seizing land, and forced assimilation were the easiest methods for colonizers to deal with the problem of indigenous people. Later, federally funded programs were developed and provided to private organizations to create programs to "civilize" native people and children.

Policies shifted in the US as Native Americans were no longer to be assimilated or civilized where they live, rather removal and relocation of entire tribal nations was established to further dissolve differences.

Entire tribal nations have been victim of a systematic structure that has forced them give up their homes, territories, culture, beliefs, and religious and tribal practices leaving a permanent mark on the psychology of Native Americans.

Measuring Rape and Sexual Assault

Statistical information on rape and sexual assault is collected in the United States by the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) or the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) and compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Data by the NIBRS and UCS is based on reports of sexual assault by state, county, and city law enforcement agencies. While these reports included important features of crime incidents such as the characteristics of the victim and perceived characteristics of the perpetrator, only half of all jurisdictions participant in the NIBRS collection. Further because the FBI statistics rely on information reported from law enforcement agencies problems arise in the true number or reports. This is because only a very small portion of sexual assaults are ever reported to law enforcement. According to the NCVS only one quarter of victims who knew their offender reported the incident to law enforcement. Additionally, less than one in ten women attending university who have been sexually assaulted will ever report to law enforcement.

Due to the limitation of data collected by law enforcement agencies, a preferred method of collecting data of sexual assault prevalence is through random sample surveys. Unfortunately, when collecting data of violence perpetrated towards AIAN is more reliant on convenience samples which collect samples of women who are treated at clinics, seek help in shelters, involved in community groups etc. National samples are in important tool in collecting data for AIAN women as a whole; however they may not apply or capture tribal variation. Conversely, while local samples are able to capture the unique vulnerabilities of certain tribes, this information may not accurately be applied generally to all AIAN women, nor would it be sufficient in measuring sexual assault among urban locations which comprise over half of the AIAN population.

Intimate Partner Violence

Limited empirical research is available that explains why AIAN women are the victims of violence at higher rates than Caucasian women or other women of color. However, it may be practical to consider forced assimilation over centuries coupled with generations of internalizing the dominate group norms as a theory explaining the high prevelance rates of violence against AIAN women. Gender is a widely used as an important factor to understand behavior. Feminist scholars argue that violence is a part of a patriarichal system of despotic controls that allow men to maintain dominance over women.

Research has suggested that poverty is a risk factor for domestic violence, along with low levels of education and younger age. Compared to families with annual incomes above $30,000 per year, family incomes lower than $15,000 were more than 22 times as likely to experience some form of abuse. Over 24% of Native Americans fall below the poverty threshold, compared to 13% of the general population.

Another factor as a risk for violence against women is alchohol and drug abuse. Studies have shown that many Native American tribes show much higher rates of alchohol abuse and dependence. Further, studies have demonstrated that women who have alchohol or drug problems experience substantially more childhood sexual victimization or other physical abuse than women who do not have alchohol and drug problems (General) Because research in understanding violence against women is limited to the experiences of Caucasion women, the historical, social, and economic factors of Native American life is not captured. It is a disservice to Native Americans to apply Euro-white purported set of values to frame the social problem of violence against Native American women. In order to fully understand the contributing factors of violence against Native American women it is necessary to view experiences from a social, cultural, and colonization persepective

According to the NVAWS, the lifetime rate of physical assault was 64.1 compared to 51.8 of the total population. Significantly higher, were rates of intimate partner violence among American Indians in New Mexico at 4.9 per 100,000 compared to the rates for Hispanic women at 1.7 and non-Hispanic White women at 1.8 (Arbuckle et al., 1996). A study of 371 women on a Navajo reservation in the Southwest to determine the t prevalence of domestic violence found that 52% reported a history of at least one occurrence of domestic violence and 16% reported violence with the past 12 months. Finally, in one national study exploring one year prevalence of violence within marriages, found 15.5% of Indian couples reported violence within the marriage and 7.2% reported severe violence (Wah and olsen)

Barriers to Services USE MORE OF HAMBY STUDY REGARDING BARRIERS Native American women who have been sexually assaulted face many barriers when attempting to access resources. Additionally, agencies and organizations that seek to improve services face barriers as well.


Studies generated about the quality of care of health care providers on reservations indicated that patients perceptions of health care providers were often negative stating they showed superior attitude and used confusing terms.

Conflict of Values

Typically personnel who take part in the triage of a sexual assault event, rape crises advocates, prevention specialists, health care providers, and law enforcement make recommendations to patients predicated on the values of U.S. culture. Rape victims are encouraged to have physical exams, test for sexually transmitted infections, receive medication to prevent pregnancy, encourage victims who are assaulted by a partner to divorce or separate, and advise to take legal action to prosecute the perpetrator. Another basic feature is that the victim are expected to disclose the events of the sexual assault to different individuals during the course of recieveing assistance.

Some Native women hold values that are profoundly different than mainstream US culture and do not work with these recommendations. Many Native American people value privacy in family and sexual matters and it may be difficult for Native women to disclose intimate details about a sexual assault or victimization. Additionally, Native women may be uncomfortable using the judicial system which may be racist or insensitive to Indegenous people.

Economic and Geographical Barriers

High rates of poverty and unemployment are often found in many tribal communities. Also, because of colonizers removing tribes from desiarable locations and forcing them into rural or remote areas and public transportation is usually not available impeding access to care. A further outcome of poverty is lack of telephones in households of Native Americans. Studies done in Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and South Dakota revealed that only 43% to 72% of households had telephones (Hamby)d

Native Healers

Some Native American women feel more comfortable with seeking assistance with community Native healers. The philosophies of native healers is vastly different from Western sytle health and social services; however, Native American women may benefit from utilizing both resources. The most common barrier that Native women reported when seeking assistance from native healers was cost.

Western Approach Health Care

Facilities such as Indian Health Services are available for members of federally recognized tribes to receive services. Some IHS services are available near reservations and some Native Americans are able to access services at an IHS location in urban areas. The downside to many HIS facilities is they are lacking in specific services that are unique to sexual victimization, yet individuals will be treated for injuries, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy at lower costs. HIS services also provide free psychotherapy for Native American women; however, due to stigmatization surrounding sexual assault issues, many do not use these services. Confidentially and privacy are serious barriers that deter many Native American women from seeking treatment. Even the perception of limited confidentiality can prevent many Native American women from seeking help.

Law Enforcement and the Community Justice System

Victims, especially minority victims are aware of the problems of the criminal justice system. Some of the common problems; fear of being stigmatized after filing public charges, fear of being accused of a crime themselves, and fear of accusing a tribal member and subjecting them to a racist and unjust legal system. Furthermore, there is a complex relationship between federal, tribal, and state jurdistictions blurring the legal lines. For example, reservation authorities cannot prosecute a non-Indian perpetrator if assault occurred on reservation land and off-reservation authorities are hesitant to get involved in crimes that occur on reservations.

Lack of Funding

Indian Health Services (IHS) is a branch of the Health and Human Services designed to provide federal health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The HIS is different from other health care providers is because it's an agency that listens to community-based clients. For example: The IHS often partners with traditional healers, medicine men and women - such as providing facilities, so that patients see doctors and traditional healers on the same team (IHS) Because of the investement in education, sanitation, and prevenative care, in the first 25 years the IHS saw infant mortality drop by 82%, maternal death rate dropped by 89%, the mortality rate from tuberculosis decreased by 96%, and deaths from diarrhea and dehydradation diminished by 93%. Unfortunately, due to scarcities in budget, personnel, and facilities IHS is starved,spending about one-third less per capita than Americans in general.


Many Native American women do not disclose or report sexual assault or violence.

Centuries of colonization and oppression has imposed severe socioeconomic, psychological, and health problems upon indigenous people resulting in insurmountable barriers that Native American women face when seeking services or resources for help.

More than 70% of sexual assaults are not reported according to American Indians Crime Report. (Greenfield 1999). These finding are supported in other studies confirming that most AIAN women do not report sexual assault. (wahab). There are many reasons for underreporting; mistrust of White agencies, fear of being shunned by families, shame and guilt, and jurisdictional uncertainty are all factors for low rates of reporting among AIAN women (National Sexual Violence Resource Center).

Two hundred years of tribal-U.S. government coupled with tribal political sovereignty has created serious challenges impeding victims' abilities to accessible and impartial legal recourse National Sexual Violence Resource Center). These challenges deter AIAN women from being able to attain legal support that is accessible, fair, and timely.


While there are resources addressing the prevention of IPV and sexual assault, programs and interventions are limited. Wahba and Olsoen found that in their research that interventions and services designed for AIAN women fall under three main categories. Community-based (local and regional) interventions, health care interventions, and federal and/or state national organizations.

Community-Based Interventions

On a local and community level, individuals are served by community-based interventions and support services that include individual and group counseling, and crisis intervention. Most of these developments came from grassroots endeavors, including shelters, crisis hotlines, and support groups (wahab). One of the first shelters to open was in 1977 by the White Buffalo Calf Women's Society of the Rosebud Reservation (Dbrun, 1990). Since, few shelters have emerged particularly for AIAN women such as the Native American Connection in Phoenix, and Dabinoo'Igan, in Duluth, Minnesota. The Dabinoo'Igan is unique in that it provides culturally sensitive and appropriate to its population Table 1. In order for sexual assault programs to implement tribally specific materials in their programs, the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource center has generated a handbook that assists with developing material that take into consideration language, ceremonies, and histories (wahab). One of the key components featured in community programs informational material is the concept of empowerment by focusing on specific cultural and tribal values and norms that support empowerment and healing. Wahab noted in their examination of programs, that each mentioned social change as an objective and/or service yet how the link between the individual and institution was not specifically stated.

Health Care-Based Interventions

Screening and referral services from interventions occurring in health care setting are typically how IPV and sexual assault is identified in Native American communities.

Interventions set in health care settings have been designed to education and support health care professionals in identifying if IPV or sexual assault has occurred in their patients and how to provide appropriate support, resources, and referrals.

Federal and National Organizations

Unlike community-based or health-care based interventions, federal and national organizations typically implement and offer services that encompass macro issues such as sexism, institutionalized oppression, and federal and tribal policy regarding IPV and sexual assault. Wahab noted that they found national efforts were similar to community-based efforts in their encompassing of traditional and holistic application to healing, social change, and prevention.

Established in 1995, the Office of Violence Against Women is the government division of the Department of Justice that attends to legal and procedural issues surrounding violence against women. This also oversees that DOJ's grant programs authorized by the Violence Against Women Action (VAWA) of 1994. In 2008 the VAWA budget increased $17.5 miilion; however many vital programs have seen drastic budgetary cuts, specifically for AIAN women. An additional $3.42 million is allocated to the Tribal Coalitions Grant Program and a 5% annual budgetary increase of the following: (a) Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders, (b) Rural Domestic Violence and Child Victimization Enforcement Grants, (c) Legal Assistance for Victims Grant Program, for Native American specific programs.

Service, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors (STOP) grant programs for reducing violence against Native American women was examined revealing that (a) training improved the efficacy and the number of responses to domestically violent situations, (b) an increase from 50% to 98% of protection orders, (c) grants received by tribes allowed traditional aspects intact, and (d) tribal grant reciepeints were prosecuting and sentencing more domestic violence crimes. NIJ 2001.

­Further Implications for Prevention and Interventions

Native American women face unique obstacles as victims and will need to be considered before services anwhen accessing resources for sexual assault. In order for servic