I was originally going to focus on climate change this weekend, but the public outcry over the missing black girls in DC rerouted the direction of my posts. And writing about the missing girls reminded me of another subject on which I’ve wanted to post: sexual violence against Native American women.
The statistics are dismal indeed. A 2016 Department of Justice study shows that of over 2,000 women surveyed, 84 percent of Native American and 56 percent of Alaskan Native women have experienced sexual violence – and over 90 percent of that violence is at the hand of a non-tribal member. A more specific statistic finds that 80 percent of men who committed sexual crimes against Native women were white. These numbers are not new to 2016, by the way. I have been hearing these statistics beginning ten years ago in my women’s studies department, and they have remained steady over the years.
Generally, rape tends to occur mainly between individuals of the same race. Native American women are the exception to this rule. The reasons for this anomaly really originates in European settlers viewing Native women as exotic “others” (like most colonized women) and by the European understanding of some Native American cultures’ more relaxed view of sex as permission for rape. The fiction book “The Round House” by Native author Louise Erdrich tackles these complex issues, and I highly recommend the book.
Currently, when crimes occur on a reservation and involve a non-native, the tribal police cannot punish the non-tribal offenders. The biggest turning point was in 1978, when the US Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish ruled that no tribal government has criminal jurisdiction over non-Native people. This means that tribal police could not prosecute the non-tribal men who rape and commit domestic violence against Native women. In 2013 the Violence Against Women act was amended for added protections against Native American women – but these protections only extended to domestic violence. Tribal police still cannot not prosecute cases of sexual assault, human trafficking, rape, or child abuse involving non-tribal members. Even if cases are prosecuted on tribal land, protections, such as in the cases of stalking, do not have to be upheld off tribal lands by non-tribal police.
These factors are driving the current epidemic of violence against Native American women, and it is a national disgrace. The poverty of most reservations exacerbates the issue, forcing the women to stay with abusers (in the cases of domestic violence) – and squarely placing Native American women at the intersection of race and class to be ignored by the media.
I recall one article, a long time ago and thus no source, that Native American mothers tell their daughters to go to Planned Parenthood WHEN they get raped. It was an article about Planned Parenthood, I recall, but the point is that not IF, but WHEN a Native American girl or woman gets raped was the statement.
Like the media, feminism is completely failing to cover this neo-colonial calamity in any meaningful way. Many feminist outlets continue to focus on the epidemic of murder and violence against trans women. And although tragic and deserving of attention, this epidemic of murder is largely confined to trans women of color specifically involved in prostitution – a factor hardly addressed given the pro-“sex work” platform of liberal feminists, and a level of murder falsely extended to trans women as a whole. Given that feminism is the movement that is supposed to empower women, it is hard to see where else a focus on violence against Native American women will come from, and given the trans ideology of current liberal feminist discourse, it is hard to see if such priority to Native American women will ever occur outside of Native American activists.
The media, too, largely ignores the issue. The media loves rape stories involving certain types of women – mainly white women, perpetrated by black or white man. The most recent case that comes to mind is that of Brock Turner, a rich white boy who was given a six-month sentence for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. While the media and many feminists displayed shock and dismay at the outcome, Native American women were probably not surprised at a white man getting away with rape.
The epidemic of violence against Native American and Native Alaskan women is neo-colonialism at its strongest. According to Amy Casselman, a former case worker for the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada and author a of Injustice in Indian Country: Jurisdiction, American Law, and Sexual Violence Against Native Women, white men know about this loophole and specifically target Native Women on their reservations – a loophole shared through the internet. The fact that this isn’t being screamed from the mountaintops by liberal feminists who are supposedly focusing on crushing the neo-colonial patriarchy is a travesty and is hypocrisy at its finest.
I will end this post with this story from Amy Casselman’s VICE interview from 2016, which I highly recommend reading (sourced below) as I believe she describes the situation better than I ever can (and I highly recommend reading her book, as I plan to):
“In 2009, I had the honor of meeting a woman named Lavetta Elk who in 2003 was assaulted near her home on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation by her Army recruiter Staff Sergeant Joseph Kopf. By strategically choosing to assault her on Indian land, he leveraged his identity as a non-Native person to get away with his crime. This is the reality for many Native women because the jurisdictional law that covers Indian country privileges non-Native people who commit crimes specifically against Native people. In Lavetta’s case, because she was Native and Kopf was non-Native, the tribe couldn’t prosecute him. The federal government then declined to prosecute. The US military investigated and found that Kopf had in fact sexually assaulted her, but they never prosecuted him. They never even discharged him from the military. As the result of the jurisdictional mess in Indian country, Lavetta was told that there was no justice to be found for her.
Despite this, she did not give up. Instead she aimed higher, and sued the US government for reparations based on treaty rights and won, culminating in one of the most significant legal victories for Native people in recent history. But remember, despite this, her assailant did not pay for his crime—the United States of America did, and Kopf is still a free man.”