Rape is at epidemic levels among Native Americans. Some mothers seek out Plan B for “when” their daughters get raped — not “if.”
The numbers bear out their fears. In some rural villages, rapes are 12 times more common than the national rate, and for Native American women, generally sexual assault is more than twice as common as the national average, according to The New York Times. The Alaska Federation of Natives cites a 2010 report by the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center, finding that while only 15.2 percent of Alaskans are Native American, they are the victims of 50 percent of the domestic violence and 61 percent of the sexual assaults committed in the state.
The vast majority of these crimes go unpunished. Local police, expected to prevent rapes and to respond quickly to reports of rapes, sometimes don’t respond at all. Hospitals lack the rape kits and cameras that would allow the collection of biological and photographic evidence to be used at trial. Most Native American rape victims don’t bother to take the nearly futile step of reporting rapes in the first place.
The men who commit these crimes are often not Native American themselves. Indian Country reports that “non-Indians commit 88%” of rapes and domestic violence against Native American women, but they are beyond the reach of local justice: “antiquated jurisdictional laws” prevent tribal justice systems “from prosecuting non-Native criminals.”
This has become a sticking point in the debate over renewing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Senate passed a version of the bill that “would grant new powers to tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians suspected of sexually assaulting their Indian spouses or domestic partners,” Timothy Williams writes in The New York Times. But the House passed a bill that excluded that new protection, apparently out of fear of expanding the powers of tribal courts to adjudicate cases against non-Natives.
Native American victims of domestic violence who seek protection orders have no place to turn other than tribal courts in more than 90 rural Alaska communities that have no other law enforcement presence, as the Alaska Federation of Natives recently wrote to Congress. If Indian womens’ batterers are not Native, tribal courts lack jurisdiction to grant those crucial orders of protection and the women are left with nothing to shield them from the men who abuse them.
Call on your federal Congressperson in the House of Representatives to support the Senate version of VAWA and insure that protections for Native American women and authority for tribal councils are included in the bill. You can find your representative’s contact information at http://www.house.gov/.
Photo credit: wellstone.action