According to the US Justice Department, Native American women face rates of rape more than double that of the national average, but as the New York Times reports, they receive very little protection from rape or sexual assault. Particularly vulnerable are Native women in rural Alaska; in a survey conducted by the Alaska Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in rural Alaskan communities is 12 times that of the national average. Despite these high rates, Indian Health Services hospitals lack resources to aid survivors of sexual assault, such as proper training and sexual assault kits. Native American women also have limited access to birth control, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and the morning-after pill.
In the face of these issues, Congress is struggling to implement protective measures against rape and sexual violence in Native communities. The US Senate passed a new version of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 that would allow tribal courts the power to prosecute non-Indians suspected of sexually assaulting their Indian spouses or domestic partners. The House, however, removed this authority in the version of the bill they passed. Both House Republicans and Senate Republicans fear the power it would give to tribal courts, despite the fact that 86% of reported rapes against Native women are committed by non-Native men.
The Emmonak Women’s Shelter has offered protection for many years to Native women who have been abused or raped, but will likely face closure. Due to the frequency of assault and rarity of prosecution, this shelter is often the only option Native American women in the surrounding Alaskan villages have, however in 2005 Alaska chose to cut off funding to the shelter.
Charon Asetoyer, a women’s health advocate on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, says rape has become the norm.
“We should never have a woman come into the office saying, ‘I need to learn more about Plan B for when my daughter gets raped. That’s what’s so frightening — that it’s more expected than unexpected. It has become a norm for young women.”
When it comes to fighting the frighteningly high levels of rape, Native American women are left behind by the tribal, federal, and state level. With insufficient funding and resources to combat sexual violence, it seems likely their rates will continue to soar above the national averages.