The content team at LegalFinders is devoted to making sure the best content reaches our audience. This includes employing editorial standards like checking sources for accuracy and reputation, creating thoughtful pieces with objective analysis techniques and more. Our content will also be legally reviewed by an attorney to ensure that it meets quality and legal standards in all state and practice areas.
If you think you’ve spotted a problem with any of the information on our site, let us know! We will review and make changes as necessary. Please email [email protected] with any questions or concerns.
Native American women face the highest rate of sexual assault and rape as compared to any other demographic in the United States.
And the aftereffects of such assaults can devastate both the individual and the Native American community as a whole.
Though the damage of such actions can never be reversed, Native American women do have resources available to them to support, educate, and assist them as they heal.
Sexual assault, and violent attacks in general, are far too common against Native American women in the United States.
In fact, a 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) reported that 56.1% of Indian American and Alaska Native women experience sexual assault in their lifetime, and 84.3% experience violence in some form.
More statistics on Native American women, violence, and sexual assault include:
These numbers are especially alarming when compared to the rates for African Americans, Hispanics, and non-White Hispanics, which are consistently lower in all areas.
A 2013 report from the National Congress of American Indians found that in the majority of sexual assault cases against Native women — 67% in fact — the perpetrator is a non-Native.
This number of cases of sexual assault can be further broken down into 57% White, 10% Black, and 33% Other.
In the case of violent, non-sexual assault against Native women, the numbers show similar patterns, with 63% of perpetrators being non-Native.
In both the cases of assault and sexual assault against Native American women, more than half of the perpetrators of the sexual acts are White males.
The evidence is clear that Native American women experience sexual assault at much higher rates than the average American woman, and there are several reasons behind this fact.
Interracial violence plays a large role in high sexual assault rates against Native American women, as most of the offenders are white partners and white non-partners.
America, sadly, has a long history of interracial violence since its founding, much of it targeted at the Native American population, as they were the first group to challenge the “whiteness” of the new White Americans.
Tribal jurisdiction can be an incredibly complex process, with outcomes that are heavily dependent on the location of the crime and the Native status of the perpetrator and victim.
In some cases, the Tribe may not have authority over a crime at all, making it harder for women to seek justice and less likely to try to find help, further victimizing the victims of sexual assault.
It is commonplace to find lower rates of law enforcement on Native lands, and to make matters worse, law enforcement officers often have to patrol very large expanses of land.
In fact, when compared to the national average of one law enforcement officer per 286 people, an Amnesty International report found that there is only one officer per 524 people on tribal land.
Because of a smaller number of officers being responsible over a larger portion of land, it is not surprising that many crimes on tribal lands are never reported or even known about.
There is an overall lack of local tribal solutions for sexual assault, and cases tend to get handed off, then ignored for a very long time or mishandled.
Many times when this happens victims end up dropping their cases to avoid the frustration or the pain of waiting for long periods of time while they are trying to heal and move on.
Tribal criminal justice systems also have limited resources and receive very limited funding from the federal government in order to improve.
What occurs instead is an internal criminal justice infrastructure that lacks standards and organization, and in which women do not feel safe going forward with their stories of sexual assault.
Even when prosecution takes place and is executed by tribal authorities, laws and sentences may not be enforced, and in some cases not even recognized, outside of tribal lands.
This presents a major problem when most perpetrators are non-Native, and tribal women do not feel protected on tribal land or on non-tribal land.
The same Amnesty International report as cited above found that only 30.7% of Native American census-designated tribal lands were within an hour’s drive of a facility offering sexual assault examination services.
This lack of proximity to appropriate help and medical attention, as well as a potential lack of transportation that many Native American women in poverty face, further contribute to higher rates of sexual assault in Native Americans.
It is possible that Native American women possess several characteristics and risk factors which make them more likely to experience sexual violence.
Risk factors for sexual violence against Native women include:
There are many forms and degrees of sexual violence. Here are some of the most common types of sexual violence that Native American women experience.
Sexual assault is defined as any unwanted sexual contact, but it covers an extremely wide range of incidences.
Examples of sexual assault include:
Sexual violence does not have to be between strangers, and is in fact very common among intimate partners.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 39% of American Indian and Alaskan Native women will experience intimate partner sexual violence during their life.
Furthermore, sexual assault can also happen at the hands of a friend, coworker, or authority figure.
Incest is a sexual relationship between two closely related family members, and it is illegal in the United States and many other countries.
Some Native American groups delayed letting go of this practice, and it is not entirely uncommon for Native American women to experience sexual assault at the hands of a family member.
Drug-facilitated sexual assault, also known as predator rape, is a type of sexual assault in which the perpetrator uses a victim’s intoxicated state to their advantage in order to enact a sexual assault.
This type of assault is where the term “date rape drugs” comes from, as perpetrators of this type of assault often intentionally give their victim alcohol or drugs. This makes it easier for the perpetrator to carry out the assault later on.
A similar type of assault can occur when a perpetrator takes advantage of a victim with cognitive disabilities who cannot properly give consent.
Stalking is receiving attention from someone that is unwanted and persistent to the point where the victim feels scared, anxious, and harassed.
It is important to note that stalking is considered a form of sexual assault even if no physical contact between the victim and perpetrator takes place, as it is considered harassment and a precursor to assault.
Sexual violence can affect Native American women in several ways, and some of the effects can last for the rest of their lives.
Sexual violence can have numerous physical effects on a woman in both the short term and long term, depending on the extent of her physical injuries.
Physical effects of sexual violence include:
Another serious potential consequence of sexual assault is unwanted pregnancy, which can further complicate the life of rape survivor.
Poverty is recognized as a major risk factor for sexual assault, and women in this situation are likely to also struggle with housing and employment.
Because sexual assault is also considered to be a risk factor for unemployment and homelessness, a cycle is thus created that Native American women can easily become trapped in.
Some of the worst effects of sexual assault are those that are unseen and that women carry with them psychologically for many years after.
Psychological health effects of sexual violence include:
The emotional effects of sexual violence and trauma are deep and complex.
One study that surveyed Native American women sexual assault survivors found that half of them had attempted suicide in the years since their assault.
Emotional effects of sexual violence include:
There are a few ways you can help if you know someone who is a survivor of Native sexual assault.
If you have a loved one who is a Native sexual assault survivor, the best thing you can do is simply to listen to them and offer support and help where you can.
Support could include offering a safe place or transportation if they choose to report the crime.
Be prepared, however, for the woman to say no to your help. Furthermore, if she prefers not to report the crime, that is her choice, and it is best not to put pressure or strain on her.
You can also help your loved one to locate medical care and other supportive resources that may be helpful to them during this time.
Keep in mind, some of these services are not offered directly on tribal land or reservations and you may have to travel to utilize them.
Resources for survivors of sexual violence include:
Never put pressure on someone to finish the healing process before they are ready, or to participate in treatment or other forms of help before they are ready to do so.
Everyone heals at their own pace and uses their own coping mechanisms that work for them. As long as she is not hurting herself or anyone else, let her heal at her own pace.
The damage of sexual assault can never be undone, but Native American women can begin to heal and regain hope through several types of therapy or treatment.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) therapy can be effective when treating sexual assault victims. CBT helps sexual assault survivors understand the patterns behind their negative thoughts and behaviors following their assault.
This type of therapy is effective in treating many types of mental health and behavioral health disorders, as well as treating survivors of trauma.
Trauma-focused CBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that is specifically for children, teens, and families who have survived trauma.
This type of therapy often uses a combination of individual therapy and family therapy and is usually provided in a program for a set number of weeks and typically a minimum of eight sessions.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDT) is a type of therapy that studies a person’s eye movements and uses this information to treat their PTSD.
Many people like this type of therapy for processing trauma, because it does not require them to speak in-depth about what happened to them.
Prolonged exposure therapy is another type of CBT, but one which takes on a more gradual approach to trauma and memories.
Many people use avoidance as a main coping mechanism when it comes to sexual assault, but this can actually do damage in the long-term.
Exposure therapy, on the other hand, can teach women to gradually face their fears at a rate that feels safe and comfortable for them.
Group therapy has proven to be very effective for victims of sexual assault, giving them a chance to share their stories in a safe environment with others who share similar experiences.
For Native American women who are in more isolated locations or who do not have access to transportation, there are online support groups and forums that can help.
Medications can sometimes be helpful when treating Native American women who are recovering from sexual assault trauma.
The types of medications used often include anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants, as well as sleep aids if the woman is experiencing sleep disturbances as a result of her assault.
Alternative therapy can describe any type of therapy or treatment that is non-traditional or non-standard in Western medicine practices.
For sexual assault and trauma, alternative therapies can include art and music therapy, adventure therapy, yoga and meditation, and accupuncture.
For Native American women, alternative therapies can also be prayer and group healing ceremonies.
Many Native American victims of sexual assault have strong ties to their culture and would prefer to heal through methods that are traditional to their tribe.
Oftentimes these practices are undertaken with the guidance of a tribal doctor or traditional healer.
Traditional Native healing methods include:
Tribal doctors can usually refer women to healthcare providers if they need medical care beyond what they can provide.
In the past couple of decades, there have been a few laws and Acts passed in the aim of helping Native American women.
Key laws and Acts that protect Native women against violence include:
If certain recommendations are followed and actions are taken, protection for Native American women across the United States can be expanded and improved.
In 2010, CIRCLE (Comprehensive Indian Resources for Community and Law Enforcement) Project researchers, as part of the National Institute of Justice, published suggestions for ways that tribal criminal infrastructure could be improved.
Key findings and ways that tribal criminal infrastructure can be improved include:
Tribal governments currently do not have the power to prosecute non-Natives for crimes that occur on tribal territory.
There have, however, been recent improvements, as the Supreme Court ruled in a 2021 case that tribal police officers can search and temporarily detain non-Natives on tribal land until they can be transported to federal or state detainment.
According to a 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) survey, up to 67% of violent crimes against Native American women, including sexual crimes, go unprosecuted.
By lowering this number and improving outcomes for Native American women, more will likely feel comfortable coming forward to report assault.
It is important that Native women facing sexual assault or violence know that they are not alone and that help is available to them.
There are several resources available to Native American women who have been victims of any kind of sexual violence.
Resources for Native American women facing sexual assault or domestic violence include:
There are also more general resources available to women who are survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Resources for women facing sexual assault or domestic violence include:
Ballard Brief. “Sexual Assault on Native American Reservations in the U.S.” Retrieved from: https://ballardbrief.byu.edu/issue-briefs/sexual-assault-on-native-american-reservations-in-the-us.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “CDC Works To Address Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native People.” Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/injury/pdfs/tribal/Violence-Against-Native-Peoples-Fact-Sheet.pdf.
Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. “The Colonial Roots of Violence Against Native American Women.” Retrieved from: https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/news/colonial-roots-violence-against-native-american-women.
Cornell University Press. “Violent America: How interracial violence shapes US society.” Retrieved from: https://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/ariane-chebel-dappollonia-violent-america-identity-politics-interracial-violence-02-2023/.
The Guardian. “US Indigenous women face high rates of sexual violence – with little recourse.” Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/17/sexual-violence-against-native-indigenous-women.
High Country News. “Native American women still have the highest rates of rape and assault.” Retrieved from: https://www.hcn.org/articles/tribal-affairs-why-native-american-women-still-have-the-highest-rates-of-rape-and-assault.
National Congress of American Indians. “Statistics on Violence Against Native Women.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncai.org/attachments/PolicyPaper_tWAjznFslemhAffZgNGzHUqIWMRPkCDjpFtxeKEUVKjubxfpGYK_Policy%20Insights%20Brief_VAWA_020613.pdf#:~:text=39%20percent%20of%20American%20Indian%20and%20Alaska%20Native,Hispanic%20women%2C%20and%2010%20percent%20of%20Asian%20women..
National Institute of Justice (NIJ). “Creating a Sustainable and Effective Tribal Criminal Justice System.” Retrieved from: https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/creating-sustainable-and-effective-tribal-criminal-justice-system.
National Institute of Justice (NIJ). “Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men.” Retrieved from: https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/violence-against-american-indian-and-alaska-native-women-and-men.
The New York Times. “For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape, Rare Justice.” Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/us/native-americans-struggle-with-high-rate-of-rape.html#:~:text=Reasons%20for%20the%20high%20rate%20of%20sexual%20assaults,of%20discussion%20about%20sexual%20violence%20and%20alcohol%20abuse..
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). “Types of Sexual Violence.” Retrieved from: https://www.rainn.org/types-sexual-violence.
Stanford Medicine. “Traditional Healing.” Retrieved from: https://geriatrics.stanford.edu/ethnomed/alaskan/fund/traditional_healing.html#:~:text=Typical%20traditional%20healing%20practices%20include%20but%20are%20not,6%20Culturally%20sensitive%20and%20supportive%20counseling%20%28talking%20circles%29.
U.S. Department of Interior Indian Affairs. “Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Crisis.” Retrieved from: https://www.bia.gov/service/mmu/missing-and-murdered-indigenous-people-crisis.
U.S. Department of Justice. “2013 and 2022 Reauthorizations of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).” Retrieved from: https://www.justice.gov/tribal/2013-and-2022-reauthorizations-violence-against-women-act-vawa.
VAWNet. “Sexual Assault.” Retrieved from: https://vawnet.org/sc/gender-based-violence-and-intersecting-challenges-impacting-native-american-alaskan-village-1.