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Community-Based Analysis of the U.S. Legal System's Intervention in Domestic Abuse Cases Involving Indigenous Women

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2002
461 pages
This report presents the methodology, findings, and recommendations of a study that examined the institutional processes of the U.S. legal system and their impact on the lives of Indigenous women who have been the victims of domestic violence (Indigenous women in the United States are the highest risk group for physical or sexual violence).
Members of the research team collected the field data that yielded a profile of the institutional sequences experienced by abused Indigenous women, including the police investigations, the charge, arraignment, trial, presentencing, and sentencing. Substantive descriptions of the policing and judicial processes are complemented by an analysis of the problems identified by abused Indigenous women who had been involved in the institutional system. Six focus groups were conducted with Indigenous women who had been abused and one mixed focus group composed of abused Indigenous women, Elders, human service providers, and court practitioners. The women were from a number of reservations and tribes, but all were living in the area at the time the groups were conducted. A small focus group was conducted with participants at a National Nations Conference on Domestic Violence who were all Indigenous women who had been abused and were practitioners. After a full year of identifying the problematic features of the U.S. legal system with respect to cases that involve Indigenous women who are victims of domestic violence, four values that are central to traditional Indigenous culture were found to be absent in the legal system: the honoring of all relationships, holistic approaches to broken relationships, respect for women, and integrity. This report details the ways in which institutional practices failed to provide these values for abused Indigenous women in the course of their contact with the legal system. In discussing the historical context for this study, the report addresses the development of Federal-tribal relations and the erosion of the status of Indian women, the authority of Indian tribes to address the safety of women, responding to violent crimes against Indian women, and contemporary tribal approaches to enhance the safety of women. Also discussed are how culturally intrusive colonization leads to violence against Indigenous women and Indigenous forms of social harmony in the relationship of women and children. 109 references and appended supplementary information

Date Published: December 1, 2002