Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men
The study used a large nationally representative sample from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS). The NISVS was launched in 2010 by CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, with the support from the Department of Defense and NIJ.
Narration by Terri Henry, Eastern Band Cherokee Indians
The stories of American Indians and Alaska Natives are as varied and nuanced as the people themselves. But the latest study from the National Institute of Justice finds one troubling through-line that links these stories: the experience of high rates of violence.
Like songs and oral histories, science can raise awareness by quantifying the severity of violence; it’s time to hear what the numbers are saying.
The vast majority of American Indian and Alaska Native women and men have experienced violence in their lifetime, and one in three have experienced recent violence, in the past year.
Those levels are higher than in the general population, but that’s not where the inequalities end. The study also measures a range of impacts, as well as services needed, because of violence.
What’s behind those numbers? Let’s start with the finding that for American Indians and Alaska Natives, violence doesn’t discriminate by gender. Women and men share similar rates of victimization.
That means almost three million American Indian and Alaska Native women and men have been victims of violence.
To put that number in perspective, imagine if everyone in the state of Iowa stood up — or every resident of Orlando, Dallas, Detroit, Anchorage and Atlanta, combined — that’s the scale of the violence. But what about the scope? The NIJ study breaks types of violence into four categories, and violence against American Indians and Alaska Natives is high across all of them.
Take stalking, for example. It can be a gateway to more aggressive violence. And repeated, unwanted, fear-inducing experiences come in many forms.
Lifetime estimates of stalking for women in the study are almost double those of non-Hispanic whites.
Add male and female victims together, and that’s more than 1.2 million people. That would fill 20 sports stadiums, if every single ticket-holder had been stalked.
Being forced or coerced to engage in unwanted sexual activity is another form of violence, a form all too familiar to American Indians and Alaska Natives.
For example, these mothers, daughters and sisters face almost two times the risk of sexual violence with penetration as non-Hispanic white women.
Overall rates of physical violence by intimate partners in the past or present are even higher, from being shoved to having a gun or knife used on them.
More than one in every two women and more than one in every three men have experienced physical violence by intimate partners in their lifetimes, comparatively much higher than the physical victimization rates over the lifetimes of non-Hispanic whites.
Of course, not all violence is sexual or physical, so the NIJ study also examines psychological aggression: for example, expressions of anger that seem dangerous or humiliating, or controlling access to birth control.
Overall, psychological aggression affects more than one in every two women and men. Psychological aggression may not be as obvious as broken bones or bruises — but it is real.
Among victims, 63% of women report partners tracking them, and 55% of women report being kept from family or friends.
These are just a few findings, but remember — they are numbers that correspond to real victims who would fill the entire state of Iowa.
Now picture if 97% of women and 90% of men in Iowa were victimized by people of other races and ethnicities — interracial perpetrators who violated the safety of their schools, workplaces, parks, homes and bedrooms.
Numbers alone don’t tell the whole story, but they do point to a dangerous gap: Most federally recognized tribes don’t have the legal authority to criminally prosecute non-Indians, even for crimes committed on tribal lands. So what does it all mean?
The impacts of high rates of violence against American Indians and Alaska Natives range from missed days of work or school to physical injuries.
It’s not surprising that services are needed — like medical care to treat injuries — but here’s where the NIJ results uncover another glaring disparity: Almost 40% of female victims who need services can’t get them, compared with only 15% of non-Hispanic white female victims who fall through the cracks.
American Indians and Alaska Natives deserve better, and now there is science to prove it. These numbers are not abstract. They bear witness to real people: mothers, girlfriends, brothers and grandfathers.
Our hope is that this study will lead to a story of a new beginning, one where all of us listen to what the science is saying — what the victims are saying — and unite to prevent violence, wherever it happens.
NIJ wishes to acknowledge all victims of violence and thank the 3,978 American Indian and Alaska Native women and men who volunteered for this study. Their courage, and the commitment of the entire community, is the first step in protecting the safety of future generations.
Study author: André Rosay, Ph.D., University of Alaska Anchorage
Original artwork: Sam English, Ojibwe painter
Additional thanks: CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.
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