Domestic Violence in Indigenous Populations

Domestic Violence in Indigenous Populations

North American indigenous people are more than twice as likely to experience abuse and violence than the general population. But despite their increased risk, Native American and Alaska Native women, girls, and two-spirit survivors lack resources and support. 

What is behind the crisis? And where can indigenous populations seek help?

Rates of Domestic Abuse in Indigenous Populations

The statistics are staggering. Indigenous populations are 2.5 times more likely to experience violent crimes and two times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault than all other races.

Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people are at the highest risk, but men face only slightly lower risks. 

In fact, studies show:

  • Nearly 85% of indigenous and Alaskan Native people (men, women, and two-spirit or nonbinary people) report being victims of violence at some point in their lives. 
  • An estimated 1/3 have experienced physical violence in the past year. 
  • Levels of violence against indigenous populations are 52% higher than those in the general population. 
  • Rates of physical violence, emotional or psychological violence, sexual violence, and stalking are all higher among indigenous populations when compared to non-native people. 

Watch this video from the National Institute of Justice for a more in-depth look at the domestic violence crisis impacting indigenous populations: 

The rates of domestic violence parallel the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirits (MMIWG2) crisis raging throughout North America. Experts cite underreporting and unequal access to resources and care for these dramatic and heartbreaking stories. 

How Culture Impacts Domestic Abuse

Like survivors in all cultures, indigenous populations encounter abuse in many forms: physical, emotional, psychological, and economic. Abuse is even more widespread among native populations, but fewer resources are available for victims.

Domestic abuse is complex in every culture, but perhaps even more so in indigenous populations. Community relationships, traditions, and religious beliefs play an important role in native cultures. Some abusers weaponize these connections by:

  • Belittling or making fun of cultural or religious beliefs
  • Threatening to cut off the victim from their community
  • Preventing the victim from participating in cultural and religious events
  • Forcing traditions, religious, or cultural beliefs on an indigenous woman against her will

The intersection of culture and abuse can create strong, seemingly unbreakable ties. You can read our blog on culture and its role in domestic abuse here

Barriers to Care

Even though indigenous women are more likely to experience violence, they have fewer resources to seek help than non-native women. 

Take cross-cultural violence, for instance. When a non-native person inflicts physical, sexual, or emotional violence on an indigenous victim, law enforcement rarely intervenes. Non-tribal perpetrators cannot be prosecuted by tribal courts, even if the assault occurred on tribal lands. So, even though most crimes against native women occur from a non-native partner, the abusers can only be tried by non-tribal law enforcement.

Non-tribal law enforcement, however, often hesitates to get involved in tribal disputes. There are also fewer law enforcement agents and less funding for resources in tribal areas.

As a result, victims of assault or abuse often do not report because they believe (and rightfully so) that they won’t receive any assistance.

Similarly, those living in indigenous populations often lack access to healthcare, making them less likely to see a mandatory reporter like a doctor or mental health professional. In these instances, survivors are victimized repeatedly, having few resources to help them identify and escape the abuse.

Where Indigenous Women Can Find Help

Abuse in indigenous populations is a rampant problem. However, as healthcare providers, law enforcement, and the general public learn more about issues facing indigenous people, more resources are being put in place to prevent violence and help survivors.

Change is slow-moving, and too many indigenous people continue to experience violence in their homes and communities. 

Survivors need resources that acknowledge their unique challenges. StrongHearts Native Helpline (1-844-7NATIVE) is one such resource. This 24/7 hotline provides safe and secure assistance for Native American and Alaska Native victims of domestic, dating, and sexual violence. The helpline offers culturally-appropriate support and advocacy.

Indigenous survivors can also access the National Domestic Violence Hotline online, by phone (1-800-799-SAFE), or by texting “START” to 88788.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, do not wait. Contact 911 or your local law enforcement agency immediately. 

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