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Native American Women and Rape - An Escalating Crisis on Tribal Lands

By June 1, 2010

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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.

Current TV's Rape on the Reservation

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:

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.


Comments

June 2, 2010 at 2:26 pm
(1) Diane says:

This is a topic well-deserving and long overdue for attention. That said, I would urge people to view this not only as a “woman’s” issue but rather a human rights issue. Rape has and continues to be a tool for creating oppression and committing genocide and does not just affect women.

June 2, 2010 at 4:17 pm
(2) Chris says:

As a Dakota Native American I’ve always made it a point (when the topic comes up) to say that the past is the past to me, but there is a continued, instituted, aggression towards my people and that’s where my outrage comes from. It comes in many forms, and as I don’t live on my tribes reservation, I used to never make the distinction of “my people” before really being made aware of how bad things were. So it’s no surprise that the system is set up so that the age old practice of raping our mothers, sisters and daughters goes on without consequence. What does surprise my cynical mind, is that anyone, at the higher levels of government, is willing to fix the problem you bring up here. Great job for shining a light on it!

June 3, 2010 at 10:25 pm
(3) Deanna says:

i would like to say to Mariana van Zeller, that on all RESERVATIONS I’M SURE ALL NATIVE WOMEN HAVE EXPERIENCED SOMETHING AS BEING RAPED, SEXUALLY ASSAULTED, LEFT IN THE DITCHES TO DIE, BUT YET NOTHING EVER GETS DONE, AS THE MEN OR WHO EVER DOES THIS CRIME GETS AWAY WITH IT, IT GOES ON AND ON IT SEEMS, EVEN THOUGH THERE ARE SOOOOOOOOOOOO MANY PROGRAMS TALKING ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE TOWARD WOMEN, I’M GLAD YOUR STEPPING FORWARD ABOUT THESE CRIMES THAT HAVE ACCORED ON INDIAN RESERVATIONS AND OFF RESERVATIONS THAT HAS HAPPENED TO INDIAN WOMEN OF ALL TRIBES I THINK, SO I’M REALLYYYYYYYYYY PROUD OF YOU IN FINDING JUSTICE FOR US WOMEN, BECAUSE AS FOR MYSELF I’M ALSO A VICTIM OF A SEXUAL ASSAULT THAT HAPPENED TO ME WHEN I WAS 14 YEARS OLD, AT FIRST I HAD NO I DEAL WHAT IT WAS CALLED THEN AS I KEPT TRYING TO PUT A FINGER ON IT, BECAUSE OF NOT WANTING TO REMEMBER THE STRANGER THAT TOOK MY VIRGIN HOOD AS A YOUNG LADY, I FELT LIKE I WANTED TO DIE, RIGHT THEN AND THERE, NOT ONLY THESE THINGS HAVE HAPPENED TO, IT HAS HAPPENED TO BOTH OF MY DAUGHTER’S BIG TIME. WELL STILL TODAY IT’S HARD TO TALK ABOUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HAVE TO GO KEEP IN TOUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

June 4, 2010 at 10:11 pm
(4) Catrina Velez says:

The sexual abuse of women who are socially vulnerable due to youth, poverty, racial or ethnic discrimination, incarceration, or mental and physical handicap has gone on so long that it often goes ignored, and without comment. Does anybody here know that when the transcontinental railroad was being built, Modoc, Cheyenne and Arapajo women were seized and forced to work in brothels that served the Irish and Chinese laborers? The seizure of girls and women for sexual slavery was a major factor in the decline or extinction of many native American tribes during the 19th century. It was EUROPEANS who brought the barbarous custom of scalping defeated warriors, and most people know this, because that was what was done to MEN, but history has overlooked the concurrent brutalities against women. Tell those white men to stop peddling Viagra and swallow a drug that diminishes sexual urges instead of inflaming them. We will all be safer for it. I probably have omitted names of the many tribes whose women were abused; if so, that proves my point about how incomplete the history books truly are….

September 5, 2010 at 3:15 am
(5) Debbie Morgan says:

Those poor woman… and children. They can’t get out even if they wanted to. My heart goes out to them and their families.
Is there anything we who are not on the reservation can do to help?
God keep you all and yours and know your not alone!!

September 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm
(6) reginabv says:

Why is it that nothing has been done to tear down the abandoned buildings that have been used for teenagers to party and is known for having been used time and time again as a place to assault young women. Why hasn’t anyone helped the poor woman who’s daughter was found dead in one of those buildings ,even though she was promised by the tribal council that they would see to it that they would be demolished. It’s a sin that native Americans have been treated like dirt and have to live under poor conditions ,drinking problems,drugs,rape and so forth with little or no help from the goverment who put us there but yet every other race who came over by boat, whether forced or on there own has gotten help in many ways.News,money for education and so on for past crimes against them. but native AMERICANS. Who actually cares?? Not the goverment and I don’t think to many people. Just push them on a corner of land and forget.There are people to stand up for people of color but as i see,red isn’t one of them.!

February 3, 2011 at 5:29 pm
(7) FallenStar says:

I am one of those people who is Native American and grew up on the reservation (still here, too). I was raped a few times and every time knew there would be nothing done about it. The only thing to do was be quiet, learn from it (know who, what, where, and when to stay away from), and grow up. Today, until reading the media coverage on it, it’s been a buried secret in my life. Even among native female friends, we don’t discuss it. Why? Because it’s going to be about someone’s brother, son, cousin, dad, or loved one, and the victim will only be victimized again for calling negative attention. In this close knit environment that is slow to change, it’s easier to change yourself than the ways of this poverty stricken community. There is so much more I could tell you, but…

June 10, 2011 at 10:41 am
(8) lost heritage says:

I don’t live on a reservation. 2 white men raped 2 full blooded chocktaw great grandmothers of mine. So, I grew up in the white man’s world, a very angry person and still am. But to hear that indians are raping indian women really makes me mad. Where is the love, the honor and justice and the kindness? Why aren’t the girls and women escorted with body guards with weapons? Why does the tribe if they are not citizens of the USA, not have the right to attack and kill people who invade. You can’t just tolerate this violence and turn away from it.

November 2, 2011 at 10:48 pm
(9) ASh says:

I did see tht Vanguard on Youtube & That was also my school tht was filmed at that is sum pretty F*cked up Ish. tho true

December 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm
(10) Adam Hall says:

So basically an american can rape an indian woman on a reservation and get away with it? Wow thats f***ed up.

October 16, 2012 at 11:11 am
(11) Washitu says:

I wonder why the white man is so quick to be blamed. Because of past transgressions? Maybe back in the 60′s it was ignorant a$$ white dudes, but today 90% of it is native boys abusing there own people. Read #7 story again, shes talking about HER uncles, cousins, etc. It is sad that people don’t let go of the $h*t that happened 100 years ago. Not all white skins are bad. We need to stop teaching hate, and focus on respecting all people no matter what color they are. If you want to be respected, give respect, and ACT respectful.
Just my assertion.

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