Rape on the Rez: The silent assault on Native American women

In modern warfare, rape has become a tool of combat. From Bosnia to Afghanistan, attacking forces have used the brutality of rape to control those they wish to conquer or punish. And if that is the case, there is a silent war happening right here in our country where Native American women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped than any other woman in America, according to Amnesty International:

Some Indigenous women interviewed by Amnesty International said they didn’t know anyone in their community who had not experienced sexual violence.

In the current presidential election, much has been made about reproductive rights — from access to birth control to access to an abortion. And within those debates, branded the War on Women, this other issue we don’t like to talk about has crept into the national conversation: Rape. Again and again, we are hearing politicians talking about rape in the context of so-called rape and incest exceptions to abortion bans. Suddenly, rape and incest have become bargaining chips in the pro-choice debate.

The Sacagawea dollar coin. Image courtesy of the US Mint via Wikimedia.

Rape is a crime. It is a disgusting display of evil run amok that robs a victim of their power. Rape is a violation. When politicians talk about rape as though it were an inconvenient trifle, it cheapens the full horror of the experience.

And we don’t have to go far to get an example that illustrates this very point. The disturbing realities of sexual violence against Native American women is an open exhibit of how brutal and silencing this crime is. Go back and look at that quote from Amnesty International again. Some indigenous women interviewed said they did not know anyone who had not experienced sexual violence. Imagine that. Imagine walking through your neighborhood, going to work, going to the grocery store… Everywhere you went, every single woman had experienced sexual violence. Truly, this is the real war on women.

And the data about the sexual violence against Native American women shows that one in three Native American women are survivors of sexual violence. According to Amnesty International a vast majority of perpetrators are non-natives:

According to the US Department of Justice, in at least 86 per cent of the reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, survivors report that the perpetrators are non-Native men.

And yet, I’m willing to bet you have heard very little about this. It is a national disgrace that we harbor sexual predators who use rape as a form of brutal conquest over an entire group of people. It’s bad enough that sexual assault even exists!

Indeed, this war on Native American women is such a startling revelation that it is making news in other countries. The Guardian published a story earlier this month chronicling the sad state affairs for native women:

We don’t think about such massive sexual assault rates happening in industrialised places like the US. We think about them as war crimes happening in downtrodden, developing countries. But here we have rates of sexualised violence that rival anything the Women’s Media Center project Women Under Siege has documented in Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, 12% of women say they’ve been raped in their lifetime.

To put this in perspective, according to RAINN, one out of every six women in America has survived an attempted or completed sexual assault. The rate of rape for all American women combined is 17.6%. The rate for white women is 17.7%. And the rate for Native American and Alaskan Native women combined is 34.1%. When you add to that the average rate of reporting a sexual assault in America is 54%… One wonders if the same is true for Native American women. If only half of those rapes are reported it is no wonder that there are entire communities where not being a survivor of sexual assault is rare.

So, the next time we hear some politician casually referring to rape, perhaps we should take that opportunity to hold them accountable. We are hearing a lot about what different politicians promise to do about the economy, Medicare, abortion, gay rights, and so on. But I have yet to hear a politician in this election season talk about what he or she will do to help prevent rape. Or, in the case of Native American women, to step in and make right what is going horribly wrong.

13 thoughts on “Rape on the Rez: The silent assault on Native American women

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