Finding Justice for Native Women

An Amnesty International report released late
last month revealed a stockpile of shocking statistics about the
pervasive sexual violence confronting Native American women.
According to the report, ‘Maze of Injustice,’ more than one in
three Native American women will be raped at some point in their
lives. What’s more, Native American women are nearly three times
more likely to be victims of rape and sexual assault than white
women in the United States.

Writing for the
Progressive, Rita Pyrillis, a member of
the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, notes that, sadly, these statistics
aren’t even a full accounting of the number of victims. Confronted
with a ‘chronically understaffed and underfunded justice and law
enforcement system and its confusing jurisdictional lines,’ victims
of sexual violence lack for both protection and advocacy. ‘Not
surprisingly, most Indian women never report sexual assaults,’
Pyrillis writes. ‘When they do, they risk further pain and
humiliation only to watch the perpetrator usually go free.’

This jurisdictional confusion is parsed in the Amnesty report,
which singles out a ‘maze of different tribal, federal, and state
areas of authority’ as leaving Native women acutely vulnerable to
sexual abuse. As the report explains, jurisdiction for a crime
committed on tribal land is dependent on whether or not the
perpetrator is Native American. ‘Consequently,’ the report says,
‘survivors of sexual violence receive a different response
depending on the location where the crime took place and the
Indigenous status of the perpetrator, resulting in uneven and
inconsistent access to justice and accountability…. Sometimes the
confusion and the length of time it takes to decide whether tribal,
state, or federal authorities have jurisdiction over a particular
crime result in inadequate investigations or in a failure to
respond at all.’

On top of the legal labyrinth faced by victims, the health
services that Native American rape victims require are desperately
lacking. Largely because of a dearth in funding and resources,
forensic medical exams are often unavailable, leaving victims with
little evidence to incriminate their assailants. As David Melmer
reports in >Indian Country Today, the lack of rape
test kits at the Indian Health Service on the Pine Ridge
Reservation in South Dakota means that ‘[m]ost women travel to
Rapid City, up to 120 miles away, to report a rape that will be
counted as a statistic for Rapid City, which has the highest per
capita rape rate in the country.’

Despite the bleak situation detailed by Amnesty, the group’s
report has given Native women and their advocates a glimmer of
hope. Georgia Little Shield, director of an anti-domestic abuse
program called the Pretty Bird Women House on the Standing Rock
Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, tells Melmer that since the
report came out and the group was able to create a website, they’ve
received a much-needed boon in funding — $17,000. And, says Little
Shield, more is on the way.

Go there >>
Justice Elusive for Native Women

Go there, too >>
American Indian Women Not Served by Justice
Department

And there >>
Maze of Injustice the Failure to Protect Indigenous
Women from Sexual Violence in the USA

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