Violence Against Native American Women

Native American women living on reservations in the US experience a disproportionate amount of violence compared to non-Native women.  This is a complex situation, involving historical and continued discrimination, poverty and the associated problems including alcoholism, with no easy solution.  A significant part of this problem, however, is the fact that non-Native men have de facto protection against prosecution.  A third of Native American women have been raped or experienced attempted rape–twice the national average–and roughly 80 percent of sexual assault against Native women is perpetrated by non-Native men (pg 9,  The extremely limited jurisdiction of reservation authorities to pursue and prosecute protects these men and prevents women from getting justice.

The Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994, and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.  The act provided funding for investigation and prosecution of violence crimes against women, … Now, the act is being expanded.  According to a NYT piece: “The legislation would continue existing grant programs to local law enforcement and battered women shelters, but would expand efforts to reach Indian tribes and rural areas. It would increase the availability of free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, extend the definition of violence against women to include stalking, and provide training for civil and criminal court personnel to deal with families with a history of violence. It would also allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence” (

The Violence Against Women Act is working – a report on intimate partner violence put out by the Bureau of Justice shows a 64% decline in violence against women between 1993 and 2010, and 60% decline in violence against men and women (  It increased awareness of domestic violence as a problem, gave law enforcement the tools it needed to fight the crime, and created a support system for abused women.  It does not effectively support or protect all women, however.

Tribal police can only pursue crimes committed by Native Americans on Tribal lands – so if a Native American woman is raped when she is visiting friends off-reservation, that is matter for non-reservation police; however, if she is raped by a non-Native on Tribal lands, that is a matter for the US attorney’s office.  Likewise, Tribal prosecutors can only try Native people who have committed misdemeanors, felonies and other crimes by non-Natives are sent to the US attorney’s office.  According to a report by NPR, “federal law-enforcement officials […] believe that U.S. attorneys find the sexual assault cases insignificant compared to their usual work — terrorism, organized crime, drugs, racketeering” (  

To make matters worse, many Tribes do not have the funding to support rape and sexual assault victims – you need to have a police department with manpower to investigate the crime, rape kits and nurses to perform exams, and prosecutors willing and able to the cases to court, nevermind mental health professionals to help with rape counselling.  According to a New York Times article, many women are discouraged from pressing charges, because they are unlikely to be able to bring the case to trial.  It’s so prevalent that it’s almost expected that women will be raped.  From the same article: “We should never have a woman come into the office saying, ‘I need to learn more about Plan B for when my daughter gets raped,’ ” said Charon Asetoyer, a women’s health advocate on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, referring to the morning-after pill. “That’s what’s so frightening — that it’s more expected than unexpected. It has become a norm for young women” (

One would think then, that improving support for Native American women would be easy to get behind, but it appears not to be the case.  Of all the new provisions for a Republican to oppose, the Native American protections are the one that Eric Cantor, House Majority Leader, says are the sticking point.  These provisions close some of the loopholes for crimes commited by non-Natives on Tribal lands by giving to the Tribal courts jurisdiction of domestic violence against Native women regardless of the ethnicity of the offender (

No one should have to experience violence.  It should not be expected that people experience sexual assault.  This needs to stop.  We need to give people the tools they need to stop violence.  The Violence Against Women Act has been shown to be effective against domestic violence, and it needs to be expanded to that it provides tools for all women.

For more information on the provisions for undocumented immigrants, see here:

For more information on the provisions for the GLB community, see here:

For more information on the history of the VAWA, see here:


2 thoughts on “Violence Against Native American Women

  1. CHB says:

    I knew the problem was bad, but I was not aware that legislation and laws were terrible in changing this. And may in fact encourage rape in some cases!

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