Serving Sexual Violence Victims in Native American Communities
Roe Bubar, Sarah Deer  -  2008/11/19
I've had 5 sexual assaults last year bet. ages 14-24. Because all involved alcohol, the Federal & Local authorities say they don't have enough evidence to file charges. As of this date only one is still pending the rest were dropped. With this kind of stat it's twice as difficult to get people to report this type of crime so it continues to go unreported. Acouple involved non-native perpetrators (adult) and native teen victims. I'm having a sexual assault training here in April, maybe getting more word out.
1.  LJBC
 In MT we have successfully prosecuted many sexual assault cases where alcohol was a factor in that the victim was not able to give consent due to her intoxication level.....this is a federal offense: Sexual Abuse incapacitated or handicapped victim 18 USC 2242(2). Fortunately the prosecutor for Indian Country is aggressive enough to keep charging these types of cases.
2.  bubar
 We know that in a high percentage of cases involving violent victimization of Native women that alcohol use is present. Since we are experiencing epidemic numbers of sexual assault of Native women it is vital that we engage in a dialogue with law enforcment and prosecutors to address this issue. I would consider setting up a meeting with the federal prosecutor and law enforcment agency in your area to discuss what their expectations are for investigation and prosecution of these cases. I would also consider bringing this issue before your tribal council or local government and requesting the leadership to send a formal inquiry of how these cases are being approached and the serious concern around community safety that results when offenders are not held accountable. Granted your concern which is an issue that has come up throughout tribal communiites involves some serious dialogue and consultation regarding systemic changes... in the meantime what can be done to address the health and healing needs of this particular group of victims especially if they are disillusioned with the system response. The April training would also provide a good forum to set up a dialogue with investigative professionals on addressing this critical issue for victims and how your community can work in a multidisciplinary approach to hold offenders accountable.
3.  Sarah Deer
 Are you working on a reservation? I believe that one possible option for tribal governments to consider is prosecuting rape in tribal court. While tribal courts are limited in terms of sentencing for incarceration and fines. I consult with the Tribal Law and Policy Institute, which has developed a comprehensive set of publications to help tribes write or revise sex offense codes. These publications are available at no charge - For non-Native perpetrators, the tribal government may be able to invoke creative civil remedies to deal with sexual assault. The Southwest Center for Law and Policy recently issued a report on dealing with non-Indian perpetrators.ຈCivilຈRemediesຈAgainstຈNon-IndianຈOffendersຈInຈIndianຈCountry.pdf
It is sometimes difficult to empower those victims who live on the Indian reservations due to lack of resources or lack of transportation to get to the resources in another town. How do you suggest giving those victims hope/empowerment that they will receive the counseling, compensation, etc. when they are used to having to provide on their own?
1.  bubar
 Spending time to establish relationships with providers particularly those in border town communities that are working with or providing survivors services in your area will be critical. When making referrals or suggestions where survivors can go or where services are available it makes a difference when you have a level of familiarity with those providers. Border town and other outlying communities have presented a number of challenges in the past for tribal people depending on the relationships in those communities with local tribes. It can also create hope and healing for providers as well as survivors if there is cross training between providers on how to reach out more effectivelythat is in a culturally competent manner to work towards the delivery of services that consider the particularly needs of Native survivors.
2.  Sarah Deer
 It is important to ensure that victim service providers, law enforcement officers, and other service providers have comprehensive cooperative agreements. Historically, Native victims have fallen through the cracks when crossing jurisdictional lines -- so when service providers are communicating with each other, victims are more likely to believe that there is coordination among agencies.
How can we as victim advocates approach sexual assault/rape education in communities to focus on the men; instead of teaching women to be safer and take precautions, teaching men to not rape?
1.  renee ih
 Thank you for the information, it is helpful.
2.  Cecelia
 I think it's beneficial to engage men and boys in discussions on sexual violence; the object being to break the circle, especially if as children they witnessed abuse and violence in the home
3.  bubar
 Working with men to address violence prevention and personal responsibility is an area that can be addressed on a number of levels. Working with tribal health or school health professionals it may be possible to create curriculum that includes what it means to be a male and encouraging masculinity in ways that honor women, reflect healthy traditional community values and ways to deconstruct how our communities have participated in promoting the sexual violence of women. Consider reviewing some of the bystander curriculums that has been developed to educate men about sexism and how violence has been condoned in our communities. At Colorado State University our mens project has drawn national attention and is delivered out of our Office of Womens Studies and Programs you can find information about it at There are segments on addressing the prevalence of pornography use, how women are depicted and degraded in the media and other ways in which we as a society have permitted violence in a variety of forms to be acceptable. Including this type of curriculum within programs and other existing efforts to work with men in your community may be another collaborative way to have other program leaders and men to take responsibility in addressing sexual violence.
4.  Sarah Deer
 It is important to engage with men and boys as community members and potential trainers. Inviting men to training events and conferences and asking them to take responsibility as men is very important. There are some great organizations, such as Men Can Stop Rape Men Can Stop Rape which have free materials to begin this work. Sacred Circle has some Native-specific approaches to dealing with men as allies.
What studies, if any, have been conducted on the problem of sexual abuse by spiritual leaders/traditional healers? How can we encourage victims in these cases to report the sexual abuse and expose this issue in tribal communities?
1.  bubar
 I am not aware of any studies that address sexual abuse by traditonal healers however I have worked on a number of cases in which traditional healers were alleged to be offenders. If victims report it is important to be able to support them through the process and possible reprecusions at the community level. My expreience has been that it is difficult for victims to disclose when the offender is well respected or holds a particular level of authority within the community. I think it becomes critical to engage in community dialogue particularly about sexual abuse and sexual abuse by persons in positions of power. This is also an issue that could be discussed by the CPT or MDT.
2.  Angie B.
 Faith, if you're interested in the article mentioned above, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center can furnish you with a copy. Conatct information can be found at
3.  Sarah Deer
 I am not familiar with any studies that specifically look at the problem of sexual abuse by purported traditional healers. However, the problem is significant and widespread. I am familiar with a few criminal cases that have made the news (such as a Navajo medicine man sentenced for raping a pregnant woman about 2 years ago) -- but I have not seen any academic studies on the topic.Bonnie Clairmont (HoChunk) recently authored a chapter about advocating for Native women and girls who have been victimized by purported spiritual leaders. She is a national expert in the movement, and her chapter appears in Sharing Our Stories of Survival, published by AltaMira Press in 2007.
What type of impact do the differences in the Native American Culture have in regard to requesting and receiving Victim Assistance benefits?
1.  Sarah Deer
 In terms of crime victim compensation, there is some history of barriers for Native victims who seek traditional healing services. Because traditional healers are not credentialed or licensed by non-Native governments, their services haven't traditionally been compensated. However, many states have changed their rules and barriers have been removed. A few years ago, a federal appeals court upheld a district court decision which ordered a convicted perpetrator to pay restitution to his victim's family in order to pay for traditional memorial services.
Hello. I am a senior at California State University, Fresno, in the Criminology Department, with an option in Victimology. I am interested in hearing about what you feel are the biggest obstacles victim service providers face when dealing with Native American sexual assault victims. Are there specific cultural practices, norms, beliefs, etc, that prevent victims from reporting? Also, what do you feel are the most important considerations when providing assistance to these victims in terms of providing the most effective service possible? What advice do you have for someone who is brand new to the field of victim services and perhaps has never encountered a Native American victim before?
1.  Dr. Saneta Maik
 The greatest challenge we face at Crime Victim Care of Allen County deals with immigrant victims who fear the system, who face language problem and also victims who have previously been victimized by the law enforcement and for that matter don't see the need to report to the same people
2.  Sarah Deer
 I hesitate to generalize, because there is such a wide variety of cultural beliefs and norms in Indian country. I think that many cultures (including Anglo-American culture) have certain societal expectations about privacy, particularly where sexual conduct is concerned.
3.  Amanda
 Thank you for the responses. With regard to your response to my #2 question, you stated that victims have a concern with confidentiality and privacy. I know that within the Hispanic community, privacy is also a concern, as they are a very private people and fear brining shame upon their family. Is this fear of bringing shame to the family similar among the Native culture?
4.  Sarah Deer
 Advice for new non-Native advocates: 1. Attend trainings offered by Native women's organizations. 2. Read and study the stories of Native survivors of sexual assault (including Conquest by Smith and Sharing Our Stories of Survival edited by yours truly). 3. Visit a tribal community in your region. If there are no reservations or tribal governments, visit an urban Indian center and ask about the services they offer. Hope this helps!
5.  bubar
 The Maze of Injustice report is one publication for you to read in considering your multiple questions. The fact that Native women are significantly overrepresented in sexual assault cases and do not feel as though the system response is adequate is of particular importance to tribal communities. I conducted a national pilot study on this issue and will share a few themes I found: Native women felt the system response was not professional when victims presented for services and that women felt they were treated differently than non-Native sexual assault victims.
6.  Sarah Deer
 Question #3:Important considerations when trying to providing effective assistance to Native victims include - making connections with tribal victim service providers (informally and formally), attending Native-run trainings to understand specific cultural and legal issues, and most importantly -- take direction from the survivor you are working with and listen to her specific needs and questions.
7.  Sarah Deer
 A brief answer to question #2. It is difficult to articulate specific cultural practices, norms, and beliefs that would apply across the board to Native culture, because there is a great deal of variation. Native victims can experience the same issues that are common to all sexual assault victims, including shame, self-blame, confusion, fear, etc.I have heard some Native women and girls say that they have concerns about confidentiality and privacy, particularly in very small communities.
8.  Sarah Deer
 I'll answer your questions in separate posts in order to make things easier to read.I feel the biggest obstacles victim service providers face when dealing with Native American sexual assault victims fall into 4 main categories - 1. Historical trauma and distrust 2. Legal uncertainties and jurisdictional barriers 3. Cultural competency 4. Resources - Each of these general categories include specific obstacles that may be unique to a particular community or even a particular survivor. I'll answer the other questions in separate posts. Great questions!
How can we unify a tribal community after an instance where one member sexually assaults another member of the tribe?
1.  mona m
 For me, I think its imperative that a community recognize the wrong that was commmited against the victim, supporting her/him and seeking to erase the shame. Tribal communities so many times want to move forward too quickly when it comes to sexual violence. I think we have to determine for the next generation that acceptance and strength are not hinged on loyalty to perpetrators.
2.  Sarah Deer
 Community forums are one possibility, but there is always the risk of re-victimizing the victim and/or her family if there is a lot of finger-pointing and blame.Another idea is to research and understand the traditional teachings about respect and interpersonal relationships. Many times, there are elders in the community who may have some specific cultural knowledge about the appropriate way to proceed. Good luck.
How do we implement three strikes penalty enhancement for sexual assault/domestic violence convictions in Indian Country? What do you do about repeat offenders and closet offenders who are family members who have never been caught?
1.  Nikki Finkbonne
 Thank you Sarah.
2.  Sarah Deer
 Tribal governments can certainly implement a three strikes penalty for offenders who are convicted in tribal court, but they can't authorize a criminal incarceration sentence of more than 1 year. Some tribal governments have banishment laws which remove a perpetrator from the community (sometimes permanently). Perpetrators who are not caught by the legal system are a problem everywhere. The best advice I can give is to strengthen advocacy programs so that more victims feel strong about coming forward. Community education and outreach is the key.
I've just returned from the Yukon Territory in Canada - young Native women (called First Nations women there) often have no cars. They hitch rides from adult men, who routinely expect oral sex in return. Have you seen this in other communities, and what has been done about it?
1.  Sarah Deer
 There is a growing awareness about sexual exploitation and even outright trafficking of Native women. This is not necessarily a new issue, but more people are discussing it recently.I have been tracking news stories about Native women being used in prostitution and drug trade in Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. I have not seen any definitive analysis of the problem, but can conclude that there are disturbing trends in all of these countries which need immediate attention.
What are your favorite sexual violence prevention campaigns in Native communities? And who are your favorite Native men who take leadership on preventing men's sexual violence against women?,
1.  B AthertonZeman
 I have had the honor to work with Marlin Mousseau - thanks for both suggestions! Keep up the great work, both of you! Wonderful forum. :)
2.  bubar
 Marlin Mousseau has been out there for a while. Clayton Small does a good job promoting healthy male behaviors and attitudes. I really like the bystander curriculums in addition to the work Marlin Mousseau has done with decolonization and Native men.
3.  Sarah Deer
 There are many! Marlin Mousseau and George Twiss immediately come to mind.
What would you suggest to improve working relationships with tribal law enforcement who are charged with investigating sexual violence cases? Over half of our cases come from tribal lands, and we find that when these child sexual abuse cases do not meet federal criteria, they are often not fully investigated, nor charged by tribal authorities. They tell us that they are a soveriegn nation, and that they will handle the abuse within the tribe.
1.  bubar
 I would start by setting up a meeting with the prosecutor and the law enforcment officers. Set the meeting up so that you are the one traveling to the tribal community to discuss what more might be needed in the interviews being conducted at the CAC to better address how your program is gathering the criminal case elements. APRI does a great job in bringing training into local communities on prosecuting CSA cases...this is helpful for law enforcment, CAC folks as well as the prosecutors and may provide the forum to obtain very specialized training at the same time being able to address the local challenges experienced in your community. I would also consider meeting with the social services program and ICWA workers within the tribal community to discuss how these cases are going and how your program might be more helpful. You might also consider attending the Indian Nations Conference in Palm Springs this December 8-10 to learn more about working effectively with tribal communities.
I am a student researcher (African American & Cherokee&Blackfoot) interested in working with American Indian mothers and adolescents impacted by domestic violence. I plan to work with tribal council, victims assistance on the reservation, and potentially providers (I have made contact with key community supports who know and are in support of the research). The data will be the tribes & I plan to assist with recommending domestic violence policies to the tribes. Can you suggest any literature or information that might be helpful in that process?
1.  bubar
 Sherry Hamby, (some DV); Teresa LaFromboise, (adolescents);Sacred Circle National Resource Center, some of the publications out of Sacred Circle and Cangleska; You might also take a look at Duran and Duran on postcolonial psychology for Natives. I also thought I saw some things out of the University of Colorado Denver Medical Center by some of the researchers there...that is where Candice Flemming and others are located.
2.  Sarah Deer
 I believe Sherry Hamby has an excellent article on this process -- also, check with Professor Bubar about her research and studies. Good luck with your project -- your research has the potential to change lives.
Appreciate any thoughts on the correlation of residual colonization effects and the change in native violence tendency/ especially in relation to our family authority, tribal jurisdiction and white dominance in the majority of native rape cases. Thank you kindly.
1.  Sarah Deer
 There is a compelling study out of Canada by a researcher named Brownridge. He looked at the rates of domestic violence in aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities. Even controlling for other possible factors (poverty, unemployment, etc), Native people suffer a higher rate of interpersonal violence. One conclusion that can be drawn is that colonization plays a significant role in these crimes. This is a difficult theory to prove but Brownridge definitely paved the way for more research.
Amnesty International released a report in April of last year that indicated roughly 86% of reported rapes and other sexual assaults against indigenous women were committed by non-indian men. Is this accurate in your opinion? Are the numbers really this high? Thank you.
1.  Sarah Deer
 Amnesty International is quoting statistics that are issued by the federal government. The numbers regarding the race of the perpetrators are disputed by some practitioners who work in and near Indian communities. The data is incomplete and needs additional work. We desperately need more research (designed and directed by Native women) to help clarify this very important question about race and jurisdiction. However, very few people dispute that Native women suffer the highest rates of sexual violence in the United States (independent of the perpetrator race question).
We met with reps from the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office last week to "fact find" about cases that are falling between the "Cracks" in Indian country in WA State. One of the interesting points they made was that reports of assaults are coming in long past the date of incidence, the longer the time between incident/crime and reporting, the more difficult to investigate. They also let us know that most of their referrals were for child sexual assault cases. Building relationships is the key and non-reporting of sexual assault crimes has less to so with ethnicity and culture than with the "unsafe and unresponsive" environment victims live in. (Just my opinion.)
1.  bubar
 Lots of children do not report cases of CSA and not reporting cases can be related to a number of differenct factors. Often times when there is good prevention programs going on in communities the reporting seems to pick up. I was unclear what types of materials about Native children you are looking for. I have written a few pieces specific to Native children in child sexual abuse cases and there is a brief article on Native children you can find on APRI (American Prosecutors Research Institute) web page that appeared in their newsletter a few years ago.
2.  Celia Ganey
 Can you refer us to programs or materials that are specifically tailored to Native children?
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