Whether it occurs in the general population or on a college campus, rape is a crime that's frequently underreported and challenging to prosecute. But there's one place in which rape occurs with impunity, where convictions are almost non-existent and the crime is reaching crisis proportions: tribal lands (Indian reservations.)
While it's estimated that 1 out of 6 American women will be raped and/or sexually assaulted in her lifetime, more than 1 in 3 Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. A Native woman is 2.5 times more likely to be raped and/or sexually assaulted than other women in the U.S.
Photo © Current TV 2010
Rape on the reservation is a women's issue that continues to fall through the cracks, despite ongoing efforts to bring it to national and international attention:
- In 2007, Amnesty International published its findings in the study "Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA."
- That same year, NPR did a two-part series on the subject: "Rape Cases On Indian Lands Go Uninvestigated" and "Legal Hurdles Stall Rape Cases on Native Lands."
The NPR series chronicled horrific stories either ignored by law enforcement or unreported because they have become commonplace: a 20-year-old woman raped and beaten by a group of men, then locked in a bathroom, eventually dying from the assault; a 14-year-old girl who accepted a ride home from a woman she knew and was subsequently raped by the woman's husband and his four friends; and a teenager walking home who was abducted and raped by a man in a passing car and dumped in a ditch.
The NPR investigation also revealed a system underfunded and often broken: a tribal health center inadequately staffed and without rape kits to collect DNA from victims; tribal leaders and Native police unable to prosecute non-native perpetrators; and a patchwork of confusing jurisdictions in which federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement intersect and clash with each other.
Underlying the issue is a terrible fact that makes justice all but impossible: 80% of rapes involve non-native perpetrators, and tribal authorities are powerless in these situations because only federal prosecutors can prosecute crimes on tribal lands.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) oversees law enforcement on the reservations, and many police departments are woefully understaffed; one reservation the size of Connecticut has only 5 officers to cover the entire area. One BIA officer told NPR he was "too overwhelmed and overworked to keep up with the number of calls for rape, sexual assault and child abuse" that came in each week.
While Congress and the federal government appropriate funds to improve the situation on tribal lands, rape and sexual assault continue to escalate.
Tomorrow night, Current TV's documentary series Vanguard examines this issue in the episode "Rape on the Reservation."
Correspondent Mariana van Zeller takes viewers to the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota , where 19-year-old Marquita was raped, beaten, and murdered in an abandoned house. Zeller looks into Marquita's murder along with other harrowing stories of rape and abuse, and exposes the difficulties women face in their attempts to seek justice.
"Rape on the Reservation" will air at 10/9 c on Wednesday, June 2.