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American Shame: For Native American women, it's not if, but when you'll be raped

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 6th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The epidemic of rape on Native American reservations far exceeds what most people would believe happens there. Survivors talk about how prevalent the practice is and what they will do when, not if they are raped.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - It's when, not if, you will be raped for many Native American women. The epidemic has been caused by light enforcement of laws and the integration of whites into tribal communities.

Native American woman suffer some of the highest rates of sexual abuse anywhere in the United States. Statistics kept by the U.S. Department of Justice say that nearly half of all Native American women will be raped, beaten, or stalked at some point in their lifetimes.

On some reservations, women are even murdered at rates that are ten times higher than the national average.

The violence is caused by relaxed enforcement at the federal level. The majority of crimes reported to federal authorities are never prosecuted for lack of evidence and the credibility of the witnesses, according to the Justice Department.

Most of the crimes are also committed by whites, as opposed to Native Americans. About half of all tribal lands are populated by whites, a product of old federal policies that allowed them to purchase such lands over a century ago. According to the Justice Department, 86 percent of sexual assaults against Native American women are perpetrated by white men.

Tribes, which are then reliant on federal enforcement, have very little power to stem the epidemic. Many tribal communities can be as far as a hundred miles away from the nearest federal office where such a case can be reported and pursued.

Many women have simply given up reporting the crimes altogether, preferring instead to live in silence than endure the shame of reporting a crime and watching it go unpunished.

Meanwhile, a practice among predatory white men is to enter the reservation with the express intent of victimizing Native American woman. Yes, this happens.

Many Native American women now discuss not what to do "if" they should be raped, but rather what they will do (or not do) "when" they are raped.

Fortunately, the Violence Against Women Act was recently strengthened to help protect women better than previous laws by allowing expanding the power of tribal authorities to prosecute these cases themselves, but the increased authority is still marginal at best.

Until the U.S. government makes punishing these crimes a priority, women will still be hunted by predators who feel they are easy prey for crimes of violence and sexual deviancy. The continued lack of enforcement is merely an extension of the crimes perpetrated by predatory whites against Native Americans for centuries.

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