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Director's Message: Violence Against American Indians and Alaska Natives


Violence against American Indians and Alaska Natives is more common than violence against others — far more common than previous research has indicated. One of NIJ’s core missions is understanding and preventing violence using scientific methods that help policymakers and practitioners understand the full nature and extent of the problem. I am very proud of a study we just published about intimate partner violence, sexual violence and stalking among American Indians and Alaska Natives. The report, Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men 2010 Findings From the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (pdf, 82 pages), was written by André Rosay, who is currently the Director of the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage; he was a visiting fellow at NIJ from 2012 to 2016.

Dr. Rosay’s study is one of the seminal projects in our portfolio of research about violence against women in tribal communities. The study involved a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We are grateful to this partner for joining us in supporting an effort to obtain a robust sample of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

This data collection was called the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), and it produced an amazing amount of data. Our sample was large enough to allow statisticians to calculate reliable estimates about the small and hard-to-reach populations who make up the American Indian and Alaska Native communities in the United States. Previously, the relatively small proportion of American Indians and Alaska Natives included in studies made it difficult to draw firm policy recommendations. But the large, representative sample obtained through NISVS is different. It gives us a much clearer look at intimate partner violence, sexual violence and stalking among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Below is a simple table outlining the key differences between NISVS and the National Crime Victimization Survey, which is another major victimization survey conducted by our sister agency, the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  

Data Collection Difference
Data Collection National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)
Goals Uses a public health approach to (1) measure the prevalence and characteristics of violence, (2) determine who is most likely to experience violence, (3) assess the patterns and impacts of violence experienced by specific individuals who commit crimes, and (4) identify the health consequences of violence. Uses a criminal justice approach to (1) develop detailed information about the victims and consequences of crime, (2) estimate the number and types of nonfatal crimes not reported to the police, (3) provide uniform measures of selected types of crimes, and (4) permit comparisons over time and types of areas.
Samples Adult women and men residing in U.S. households. The 2010 data collection included three samples — a general population sample, an oversample of American Indians and Alaska Natives, and a sample of active duty military and female spouses of active duty military. Every household member 12 years of age or older from nationally representative samples of U.S. households. Follow-up surveys occur every 6 months over the course of 3 years (for a total of seven interviews).
Methods Interviews conducted by phone, using randomly selected landline telephone numbers and cell phone numbers. Initial interviews conducted in-person, with follow-up interviews conducted by telephone or in person. 
Measures National and state-level estimates for the prevalence of lifetime and past-year victimizations (the number of victims).
National estimates for the incidence and prevalence of past-year victimizations (the number of victimizations).
Topics Psychological aggression by intimate partners, coercive control by intimate partners, physical violence by intimate partners, stalking and sexual violence. Broad range of nonfatal personal and property crimes including rape and sexual attack, robbery, aggravated and simple assault, purse snatching/pocket picking, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and vandalism.
Questions Behaviorally specific questions about what other people have done (e.g., How many people have ever used force or threats of physical harm to make you have vaginal sex?). Incident specific questions about experiencing certain crimes (e.g., Has anyone attacked or threatened you with rape, attempted rape or other type of sexual attack?).

I urge you to read the full report about violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and men, but below are a few key findings:

  • More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native adults have experienced some form of violence in their lifetimes (84.3 percent of women, 81.6 percent of men).
  • Both women and men were more likely to have experienced violence at least once by people who were not American Indian or Alaska Native than to have experienced violence by people who were. 
  • Sexual violence: 56.1 percent of women and 27.5 percent of men reported experiencing sexual violence.
  • Intimate partner violence: 55.5 percent of women and 43.2 percent of men reported experiencing intimate partner violence.
  • Stalking: 48.8 percent of women and 18.6 percent of men reported experiencing stalking.

In addition to publishing the new report, NIJ staff have implemented the Tribal Study of Public Safety and Public Health Issues Facing American Indian and Alaska Native Women, referred to as the National Baseline Study in tribal communities in the lower 48 states and Alaska. Like NIJ’s other violence against women endeavors, it will contribute to showcasing the commitment the U.S. Department of Justice has made to American Indians and Alaska Natives.