Sexual violence against Indigenous and Native women in the US is a widespread epidemic and a horrifying reality for the daily lives of women from native communities. According to the National Institute of Justice, more than half of Native women have experienced sexual violence, and nearly 4 out of 5 Native women have experienced some form of violence. Furthermore, Native women are 2.5x more likely than any other racial group to be raped or sexually assaulted. A striking feature of sexual violence against native women and indigenous women is the racial characteristic of the perpetrators. In 96% of cases, indigenous women who had experienced sexual violence identified their perpetrators as non-native or non-indigenous. Comparatively, for non-Hispanic white women, 32% of survivors identified their perpetrator to be of a different race, while 91% reported that the perpetrator was of the same race.
So what does this tell us? It tells us that the sexual violence and violence in general, that Native American women face is the result of a long history of human right violations and abuses against Indigenous people in the US. Historically, indigenous women were raped and beaten by early colonists and soldiers as a means to conquest and colonization. The violence combined with the institutionalized and racism oppression, Indigenous survivors seek a multitude of barriers to help-seeking and reporting including:
- Mistrust and fear of non-Native agencies or services as a result of the historical and institutional oppression of Native peoples in the United States
- Lack of culturally appropriate programs, which includes limited to no access or knowledge of traditional healing practices and/or judicial practices
- Discriminatory US policies within state and federal laws in relation to tribal law.
So what can we do to support indigenous survivors?
- Believe survivors. There is a long history in the US of not believing survivors of sexual violence, and this is only compounded by the history of racism and oppression indigenous people have faced-and continue to face-in the US.
- For those of us who hold privilege, take a step back and listen. It is time we create a space and platform for Native voices to be heard; it is time that we start to raise their voices thrive despite the multiple oppressions.
- Understand that healing is different for everyone; brainstorm with the survivor of what healing looks like for them. Utilize what resources the survivor already has and build from there!
- Support organizations and programs that work to provide resources and services specific to indigenous populations.
If you believe that you have been sexually abused or assaulted, call YWCA NNJ healingSPACE’s 24/7 hotline at 201-487-2227 or RAINN’s national 24/7 hotline at 800-656-4673.
Bergen County’s sexual violence resource center, YWCA NNJ healingSPACE, provides free individual and group counseling to all survivors ages 12 and older. Visit ywcannj.org to learn more about our services, all of which are provided free-of-charge.