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Violence against Native women: VAWA, please!

December 28, 2012

A bit of art I ran across yesterday, which I totally loved, and it seemed very appropriate to this topic. I’m leaving the image large, because it’s just that good.

Skeena Reece, “Raven: On the Colonial Fleet” (2010)

Description from Beat Nation: Aboriginal art that breaks boundaries:

One of the most striking works in the exhibition is the clothing and regalia worn by Reece in her persona as Raven on the Colonial Fleet. It’s comprised of a curvaceous bustier covered in vertical Northwest coast designs and an apron with figures whose outstretched arms are reaching above their heads for AK-47 machine guns. Her traditional button blanket has a surprise on the back: a grenade made out of silver sequins.

Funny they don’t even mention a pretty obvious major theme, other than with the “curvaceous” bit: anything to do with gender and sexualization.

From an interview with the artist herself (there is also a view of the back of the regalia there, with the sequined grenade):

Obviously, there’re probably a lot of different classes you can take at university to figure out why people use the images they do, but the images that I use and the purpose for which I use it was basically to show that native women are on the forefront of a war. We are carrying… we are the knowledge keepers and the knowledge givers… as are men, but we teach our children first. And being in a culture and society that turns a blind eye to women that are going missing, who are getting murdered, and who are constantly being attacked through government policies, we really are still at war. And it’s an invisible war, and I wanted to visually create this warrior-esque creature who was standing between several worlds. And culturally, it was the Plains, and the West Coast style of regalia. Also the female and the male was represented in there, burlesque kind of creature who is standing within her sexuality, strong and unashamed in her sexual power, which I also think has been marred and fucked up through residential school and a lot of sexual abuse stuff. Also the mainstream military and the underground militaristic styles and even the spirit world and the real world. I just wanted to have this all-encompassing character who is acknowledging that we are all at this cusp.

More on her thinking behind the piece, and using Trickster imagery on her site.

But, today I wanted to talk about the Violence Against Women Act, and the evil fucks who must DIAF who have been holding up its renewal in Congress. Virginia’s own Eric Cantor chief among them. (One would hope that “the highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress in its history” would try to avoid doing horrible racist shit, but apparently it’s OK where other people are involved.) Hating the idea of recognizing that much tribal sovereignty may be the excuse, but even the ostensible excuse is so thoroughly stewed in centuries of genocidal racism that it’s hard to believe anyone is even trying to pretend otherwise.

We’ve got a major continuing problem with all kinds of violence against Native and First Nations women. The focus here is on the situation in the US, since this is where VAWA is getting held up over provisions to make it easier to prosecute non-Native criminals who abuse and assault women on reservations out of  sheer contrariness, but the situation doesn’t seem to be much if any better in Canada. Amnesty International did a report, several years ago, but the situation has mostly gotten some lip service since then.

A brief overview from Violence Against Native Women Gaining Global Attention; Congress Encouraged to Act:

“A recurring issue that has come to my attention in various contexts is that of violence against indigenous women and girls,” Anaya said, in his statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September, following a month long tour of Indian country in the United States.

In his report Anaya says the U.S. Congress should make legislation protecting Native women an “immediate priority” and he recommends the United States immediately address violence against women through legislation. His report points to the fact that Native women suffer at horrendous rates of domestic and sexual violence compared to the rest of the country.

According to a press release from the Indian Law Resource Center (ILRC), Indian women are 2 ½ times more likely to be assaulted and more than twice as likely to be stalked than other women in this country. Today, one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime, and six in 10 will be physically assaulted. Even worse, on some reservations, the murder rate for Native women is 10 times the national average. Some 88 percent of these types of crimes are committed by non-Indians over which tribal governments lack any criminal jurisdiction under U.S. law and, according to the Census Bureau, 77 percent of the population residing on Indian lands and reservations is non-Indian.

Note: That 77% figure is complicated by the fact that, under the blood quantum-based criteria still widely used, you can be officially non-Indian if your parents are enrolled in different federally recognized tribes–or if one is not enrolled at all, from a state-recognized tribe, or not Native. Pen-and-ink witchcraft, with the idea of “termination” from the beginning; it’s very, very easy to be officially non-Indian, even in rez country. In most cases, for crime reporting, those groups of folks would not be described by the victims as non-Native perpetrators. Also, I am not sure if victims who are not federally enrolled are even counted in DOJ statistics as Native.

“One of the most basic human rights recognized under international law is the right to be free of violence. While many in the United States take this right for granted, Native women do not,” said Jana Walker, senior attorney and director of the ILRC’s Safe Women, Strong Nations project, in the ILRC release.

“This leaves Indian nations, which have sovereignty over their territories and people, as the only governments in America without jurisdiction and the local control needed to combat such violence in their communities,” added Terri Henry, Co-Chair, NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women, Councilwoman, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and Board member for the ILRC.

The staggering statistics don’t end at the high rates of abuse, but continue along the judicial side as well. Currently federal authorities have exclusive jurisdiction, something VAWA if passed would change, over most of these crimes, which are handled by U.S. attorneys. More often than not, these attorneys are located more than 100 miles from a reservation which leads to a decline in prosecution at the rate of 67 percent of the cases referred by Indian country.

Criminals tend to see reservations and Alaska Native villages as places they have free reign, where they can hide behind the current ineffectiveness of the judicial system and continue the cycle of violence in Native communities.

It’s a bad situation, all around. I don’t have personal experience with being targeted because of living on a rez where criminals know they are unlikely to face any consequences for hurting people, but it makes me angry that anyone is in that kind of situation. I have been targeted by some skeezy pervs (all Euro-American fellow university students, for those who might want to go all classist in profiling the nasties) who were suddenly much more interested in harassing and trying to grope at me when they decided I was “part Indian”, and can only imagine what it must be like to be regarded as a sitting duck.

Native women also do have a much higher rate of stranger assaults with high levels of violence and injury, as that “free reign” horribleness would suggest. (Stats from a paper I’ll use later.) No “gray rape” there (*shudder*), and those cases still don’t get prosecuted the way they should. There is also a problem out West with just plain white supremacist beatdowns, apparently often choosing female victims or families with kids along for greater vulnerability. (With that one case: ‘In the meantime, law enforcement seems unconvinced that the crime was an act of hate. In fact, to them the altercation was “mutual.”’) And here’s another case which actually got attention, from close to the same time period, with a lone Apache woman getting severely beaten by skinheads.

BTW, the situation with that kind of assault is very different in the Southeast, that I know of, since even a lot of the Klan asshats claim Cherokee/Chickasaw/whatever grandmas–and you’d better not try to insult Granny! I remember seeing one talk show spectacle, way back when, where some IIRC Minnesota skinheads started insulting IIRC Georgia KKK jerks for “looking Indian”, and the predictable brawl ensued. I thought it was the Geraldo episode where he got a broken nose, but apparently not. (Geraldo Rivera Skinhead Fight Episode–and, no, I didn’t even watch it, other than to try to see if it was the right one. Yuck. My mom was the one who liked to watch that show, when it was on.) Bit of an unusual regional situation, though, with a lot of real longterm intermarriage besides wannabe identity theft.

As Amnesty nailed it:

Sexual violence against Indigenous women is the result of a number of factors and continues a history of widespread human rights abuses against Indigenous peoples in the USA. Historically, Indigenous women were raped by settlers and soldiers, including during the Trail of Tears and the Long Walk. Such attacks were not random or individual; they were tools of conquest and colonization. The attitudes towards Indigenous peoples that underpin such human rights abuses continue to be present in in the USA today. They contribute to the present high rates of sexual violence perpetrated against Indigenous women and help to shield their attackers from justice. They also reflect a broader societal norm that devalues women and girls and creates power dynamics that enable sexual violence against women of all backgrounds.

(There’s also the Revolutionary War “comfort women” thing, in endnotes. Not the first or last time something like that has happened.  Wétiko.) Their focus there was on sexual assault, but it’s all kinds of violence, including “domestic violence” (I still hate that euphemism).  Not to sound like I’m trying to play oppression olympics or anything, but “The rate of violent crime experienced by American Indian women is nearly 50% higher than that reported by black males”.#  And it mostly gets ignored, except by the people–and whole communities–directly suffering. And, overall, 88% of the violent criminals hurting Native women are non-Native.

From one recent post to G+, with some interesting comment discussion:

Char-Koosta News – Empowering Native Women: Native American provision holds up passage of Violence Against Women Act »

These figures are even worse than the 75% overall that I’d run across before (bolding added):
[The 75% non-Native domestic abusers figure does seem to be right, with the 88% here being for all violent assaults. – U.]

The U.S. Department of Justice reported around 88 percent of domestic assaults on Indian land are committed by non-Indians. The only authority with jurisdiction to prosecute these cases is the U.S. Department of Justice, and they use the Major Crimes Act as their standard for taking a case. The report goes on to say, as such, 46 percent of reported assault cases and 67 percent of sexual abuse cases go unprosecuted.

The VAWA Native provision will allow tribes to take on the cases that fall below the federal radar. Tribes would then be granted authority to arrest offenders and prosecute the crimes through tribal courts, adding to their current jurisdiction over tribal members and other Native Americans.

It is just revolting that anyone would have any kind of problem with this idea.

Particularly, GOP Congressional House leader, Eric Cantor (R-VA) has opposed the provision in the VAWA to protect Native American women on tribal lands, going as far as calling it “unconstitutional.” What is behind this refusal remains unclear.

Trying to stay away from rude comments about what might be motivating Cantor and his crew. 😐

I am not an expert here, by any means, but I thought a lot of the legal space here was already covered by the Tribal Law and Order Act, as far as being able to arrest and prosecute non-Native criminals goes?

I’m running out of spoons with a difficult topic, so I will just paste in a couple of the comments from there:

Rebecca Ore22 Dec 2012

That’s actually not surprising since a lot of white guys go for minority women because they believe they will be more feminine and more supportive of their men than white women.  It’s especially true here. [Nicaragua – U.]

Me 22 Dec 2012Edit

Good point, especially considering some of the classic propaganda about Indian women basically being slaves. One paper I ran across, looking for stats, went into a number of related myths, with the implication that they might be contributing to the extremely high rates of violence:

Myth: All Native men beat their wives. It is a practice that has been permitted by Native cultures since time immemorial.
Fact: Among most traditional Native American cultures, wife-beating and/or sexual abuse have never been acceptable norms of behavior…

(Erm, yes, and I am somewhat glad that the stats still seem to suggest that fewer have been picking up bad habits more recently than I would have thought.)

I suspect that part of the problem there is being a relatively small group with an awful lot of outmarriage, too. I got curious, and it’s proven harder than expected to find stats on other racial/ethnic groups and who is actually beating on them at home, even from the DOJ. Most of what I was finding seemed to be working off the assumption that most domestic violence situations with an African-American victim involved an African-American perpetrator, though. (And not just from outsiders who might want to assume that.) The best I could find, overall: “about 11% of intimate victims and 5% of family victims report the offender to have been of a different race” ( ), but that is for the mostly white general US population. As I recall, only Asian-Americans have as high a rate of outmarriage, which is no doubt relevant. Surely those perpetrator stats exist somewhere; I’ll have another look later.

There may be more to it here, though, as keeps getting brought up with the roughly similar breakdown in sexual assault perpetrators (almost 90% of another race, mostly white): long-term lack of respect and targeting. 😦  But, apparently, 70% of violent crimes against Native people in general are coming from non-Natives. (From the same shortened link above.)

The assorted violence stats would mostly be from out West, but my mother was actually wary of my marrying a Swede until she got to know him, concerned that he might not treat me with the proper respect. I thought it sounded a little bigoted at the time, particularly given the centuries of intermarriage, but it makes a little more sense in this kind of context. Unfortunately.

Rebecca Ore22 Dec 2012 (edited)

A belief that’s pretty much b.s.  Some of the groups here are still matrilineal.  Some Cherokee guys go for white women because they’re more likely to be submissive than Cherokee women…

[I hadn’t thought of that before, but would not be at all surprised. 😦 ]


But, yeah, here’s the 1998 paper both the myths and some really horrible (mostly DOJ) stats were coming from: Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault & Stalking Prevention and Intervention in Rural Native American Communities. There’s a lot more material available on the web, but this seems to be a nice, fairly complete overview. And these are the communities that are being affected by the VAWA holdup; the urban situation is pretty bad, AFAICT, but not as greatly affected by VAWA.

One more point that seems very important here: it seems to be the same core group of recidivists who like to hurt women who are responsible for most of this violence. From Meet The Predators, at Yes Means Yes (bolding original):

Lisak & Miller also answered their other question: are rapists responsible for more violence generally? Yes. The surveys covered other violent acts, such as slapping or choking an intimate partner, physically or sexually abusing a child, and sexual assaults other than attempted or completed rapes. In the realm of being partner- and child-beating monsters, the repeat rapists really stood out. These 76 men, just 4% of the sample, were responsible for 28% of the reported violence. The whole sample of almost 1900 men reported just under 4000 violent acts, but this 4% of recidivist rapists results in over 1000 of those violent acts.

If we could eliminate the men who rape again and again and again, a quarter of the violence against women and children would disappear. That’s the public policy implication…

Second, the sometimes-floated notion that acquaintance rape is simply a mistake about consent, is wrong. (See Amanda Hess’s excellent takedown here.) The vast majority of the offenses are being committed by a relatively small group of men, somewhere between 4% and 8% of the population, who do it again … and again … and again. That just doesn’t square with the notion of innocent mistake. Further, since the repeaters are also responsible for a hugely disproportionate share of the intimate partner violence, child beating and child sexual abuse, the notion that these predators are somehow confused good guys does not square with the data. Most of the raping is done by guys who like to rape, and to abuse, assault and violate. If we could get the one-in-twelve or one-in-25 repeat rapists out of the population (that is a lot of men — perhaps six or twelve million men in the U.S. alone) or find a way to stop them from hurting others, most sexual assault, and a lot of intimate partner violence and child abuse, would go away. Really.

This small percentage of men are the ones responsible for that much violence against anyone they see as weaker.  And they keep getting away with it. And the subset of these predators who are drawn to hurt Indian women, their families, and their whole communities are no doubt drawn there by knowing they can get away with it even more than in the abuse/bullying/rape culture at large. It’s all the same culture of violence. These (mostly White) dudes are exactly who the (GOP White dude) evil fucks holding up VAWA are aiding and abetting. There is nothing else to call it. They don’t care who gets hurt, and they sure as hell don’t care about Indian women.

. To that we can add beaten, raped, etc.

And, just because I ran across this graphic while looking for some stats, I have to throw it in because it’s just so striking:

“A world map showing countries by women’s physical security, 2011.” Original source:

We can do a lot better. And, darkly amusingly in the face of my mom’s worries, the idea of moving to Sweden is looking better and better.

(I haven’t even looked at what information went into making this one yet, but they are better in the legal equality department, in general. )

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