While it is important to acknowledge that American Indian and Alaska Native women experience some of the highest rates of physical and sexual violence in the nation, it is also important to understand that Native women have not always been the targets of abuse. Before colonization, abuse and domestic violence were rare in tribal communities.
Equally important is acknowledging the existence of Native women as the backbone of our families and tribal communities. Our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and daughters play a major role in maintaining our culture and protecting our families. They are our healers, caretakers, protectors, warriors, and leaders. However, for generations, American Indians and Alaska Natives have struggled against and from under the effects of colonization, inadequate resources, marginalization, termination and assimilation, and a lack of acknowledgment of the role that history has played in our continued hurt.
Many Native and non-Native domestic violence experts agree that the prevalence of violence in Indian Country is a modern effect of the historical trauma that our people continue to experience. The extent of domestic violence in tribal communities is particularly overwhelming.
The National Institute of Justice recently released a study analyzing data collected in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Partner Survey. The study found that more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women had experienced violence in their lifetime, and one in three had experienced violence within the past year.
The report also found that among Native American people:
- More than 56 percent had experienced sexual violence
- More than 55 percent had experienced intimate partner violence
- Nearly half had experienced stalking, and at least two in three had experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner
- Of the estimated 1.5 million Native women who had experienced violence, 97 percent of the violence was committed by a non-Native perpetrator (ex. individuals of other races)
The study also examined how this violence affects our tribal communities and Native survivors. For American Indian and Alaska Native people, the study found:
- Two in three women and a quarter of men had expressed safety concerns in their relationships
- 41.4 percent of women and 20.3 percent of men had been physically harmed
- About half of women and nearly one in five men stated they needed victim services
American Indians and Alaska Natives can also face unique safety and justice barriers to leaving an abusive relationship. Some of these barriers are:
- Geographic isolation (ex. living in a rural tribal community)
- Fear of being identified when seeking help or services in one’s own small, tight-knit community
- Fear of retaliation from the abusive partner, their family or of being shunned by their tribal community
- Gaps in culturally-based supportive services
- Lack of law enforcement (ex. in remote areas)
- Historical distrust of law enforcement authorities
- Cross-jurisdictional issues when seeking help and/or reporting abuse
- Even with all of the barriers, all Native people have a right to safety, protection and to live lives free of abuse.
With few options and supportive resources, Native American victims of abuse often go without assistance. Our goal at StrongHearts Native Helpline is to provide culturally-appropriate support, referrals and safety planning for Native peoples by knowledgeable advocates. Advocates are available 24/7.
Watch the National Institute of Justice video "Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men" on YouTube.