For Native American Women, Sex Assault Is 'the Norm'

Rate of rape much higher than the rest of the country

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted May 23, 2012 12:37 PM CDT

(Newser) – The official number is bad enough: One in three American Indian women have experienced rape or attempted rape, a rate more than twice the national average. But it gets worse: One survey finds that in some rural villages, the rate of sexual violence is as much as 12 times the national rate, and interviews by the New York Times found that sexual assault is so common that few, if any, Native American women living on tribal reservations escape it. "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,'" says one women's health advocate on a South Dakota reservation. "That’s what’s so frightening—that it’s more expected than unexpected. It has become a norm for young women."

The Times article relays wrenching stories (the 19-year-old rape victim who never received a return phone call from tribal police), offers more heartbreaking statistics (just 10% of sex assaults on reservations are reported, and arrests are made in just 13% of those cases), and details the myriad problems contributing to the tragic situation: isolated villages; alcohol abuse and a breakdown of the family structure; a lack of sexual assault training. And the issue is now causing contention in Washington, as Republicans and Democrats wrestle over reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act: The Senate wants to give tribal courts more power to prosecute non-Indians in sex assaults, but some Republicans disagree. The Times' entire heartbreaking article is worth a read.

Sandbags surround the tribal center on the Hoh Indian Reservation, Dec. 9, 2008.
Sandbags surround the tribal center on the Hoh Indian Reservation, Dec. 9, 2008.   (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
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