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Jul 27, 2009
"The Land Where Rapists Go Free" is part of a series called Global Diaries that the journalist Mariane Pearl does for Glamour magazine. (Marianne Pearl is the wife of Daniel Pearl who was killed in 2003 by terrorists in Pakistan, she wrote the book A Mighty Heart that was later adapted into film). Global Diaires are amazing peieces written profiling women in the US and around the world. In the series Pearl usually focuses her attention on a problem that is disproportionately affecting women and then profiles a local female leader trying to make a difference.
When I first read the title for the piece, "The Land Where Rapists Go Free", I thought the peice would be on the topic of victims of rape in a low-income country such as the Congo but instead found myself reading about this horrible injustice here in the US:
But I’ve come here to report on another tragedy that gets far too little attention: According to U.S. Justice Department figures, more than one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime, and they are two and a half times more likely to be sexually assaulted or raped than non-Native women. And these estimates are widely assumed to be low because so many rapes go unreported. "We found anecdotally that the rates could be much, much higher," says Trine Christensen, a senior researcher with Amnesty International, which published a groundbreaking report on Native women and sexual violence last year. As Charon Asetoyer, an activist on the Yankton Sioux reservation, puts it, "The bottom line is that it’s open season on Native women. Nearly every woman on the reservation has been affected."
Because of underfunded health services, inadequate law enforcement response and jurisdictional confusion between tribal and U.S. courts, few of these rapes are even investigated, much less prosecuted. No data exists on how many cases go to trial, but Amnesty International and other activists agree: Perpetrators are walking free. "This place is heaven for serial rapists," Charon says. "Our daughters’ lives are being taken from us."
In her peice, Pearl goes on to describe the dire situation of violence against Native American women. She profiles several victims but her main focus is on Charon Asetoyer and her organization, The Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, that has provided help to countless women suffering from interpersonal violence or sexual violence.
It was so amazing to me while reading this post, that such breaches of justice were occuring in this very country and I had no clue that they even existed. Pearl documented a real problem that has been the focus of the New York Times, The US Department of Health and Human Services, Amnesty International and The National Organization of Women. According to US DHHS Statistics,
" American Indian/Alaska Native women have the highest rates of intimate partner violence compared to all other groups."
"According to the National Violence Against Women survey, at least one out of every three American Indian/Alaska Native females has been subject to intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence includes rape, physical assault, or stalking."
The enormity of those statistics is astonishing. I can not imagine what it would be like to grow up in that environment or live in an environment where so many of the women I know would have been victims of intimate partner violence or sexual assault. It is also so unforunately to know that when Native women do speak out against these injustices they are so often ignored and their crimes go unreported and unfiled. For instance take this harrowing qoute from the New York Times:
Approximately 275 Indian tribes have their own court systems, but federal law forbids them to prosecute non-Indians. Cases involving non-Indian offenders must be referred to federal or state prosecutors, who often lack the time and resources to pursue them.
The situation is unfair to Indian victims of all crimes — burglary, arson, assault, etc. But the problem is greatest in the realm of sexual violence because rapes and other sexual assaults on American Indian women are overwhelmingly interracial. More than 80 percent of Indian victims identify their attacker as non-Indian. (Sexual violence against white and African-American women, in contrast, is primarily intraracial.) And American Indian women who live on tribal lands are more than twice as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted as other women in the United States, Justice Department statistics show.
Rapes against American Indian women are also exceedingly violent; weapons are used at rates three times that for all other reported rapes.
It is apalling to think that in 21st century America we still live in a society where ethnicity can be such a determinant of health outcomes. Even more appalling is to think of the racism that leads to crimes against Native women going unpunished. Native Americans have been a very resilient people, withstanding the many abuses by the US government to achieve so much. However, that does not mean that we should overlook the insidious racism, poverty and health disparities that they face. We can no longer be innocent bystanders while our sisters are being so brutally opressed and violated, we must stand with them by acknowledging and fighting this issue.
1. Suppport the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center that provides desperately needed services to many Native women seeking refuge from violence
2. Read and circulate the articles about this problem to your social networks. Raising awareness is crucial to tackling this problem:
-the Global Diaries article in Glamour magazine
-the New York Times article
-the Amnesty International article
-the National Organization of Women (NOW) article
3. The US Department of Health and Human Services has several resources dedicated to this issue
4. Most importantly, if you or someone you know is a victim of intimate personal violence please get help:
To get immediate help and support
call the National Domestic Violence Hotline
at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)