United States: Lack of Justice for Native American Victims of Sexual Assault
Monday, June 4, 2012 11:00 AM

According to the Department of Justice one in three Native American women experience rape or attempted rape (more than twice the national average) in her lifetime. Experts argue that the situation is particularly dangerous for Native women in sparsely populated areas. For example, a survey conducted by the Alaska Federation of Natives found that sexual violence occurs at 12 times the national average in rural villages. However, due to lack of resources very few victims are able to access proper medical care and even fewer will see their perpetrator brought to justice.  
The Indian Health Service is able to provide exams for rape victims at just over half of the 45 hospitals it finances. Most of the hospitals have a shortage sexual assault kits and few have the specially trained nurses needed to perform rape exams on staff. Experts agree that rape is vastly underreported and only 10 percent of victims contact law enforcement. Of those that do file a report very few perpetrators are ever prosecuted. In fact, the Justice Department prosecuted only 35 percent of the reported rape cases on reservations in 2011.
In recognition of the growing problem the Justice Department has increased the number of FBI agents on reservations and is seeking to help provide training for more nurse examiners. However, Virginia Davis, deputy director for policy in the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women acknowledged that addressing the problem is going to take time. And recently one potentially important provision in the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Bill which would have allowed tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians suspected of sexually assaulting their Native American spouse or domestic partner was removed from H.R.4970 the version passed by the House of Representatives.
Compiled from: Williams, Timothy. For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape, Rare Justice, The New York Times (22 May 2012).