Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another. It affects individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background. Domestic violence against women is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior, and thus is part of a systematic pattern of dominance and control.
Domestic Violence is not a "private family matter". Its effects are pervasive and devastating. More than 15,000 homicides are attributed to intimate partner violence each year. Domestic violence costs $37 billion each year in medical costs and lost productivity.
One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and 85% of domestic violence victims are women. Almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner. Four percent of male murder victims are killed by an intimate partner. Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under-reported crimes.
Witnessing violence between one's parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
Native Women experience the highest rate of violence of any racial group in the United States. They are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the US. 17 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women are stalked in their lifetime, compared to 8 percent of white women, 6 percent of African-American women, and 4 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander women.
One-third of American Indian women are the victim of rape or sexual assault at some point in their life, as compared to seven percent of Asian Americans; nineteen percent of African Americans, and eighteen percent of whites. In at least 86% of reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian women the perpetrators are non-Native men; that is unusual because most rapes are intra-racial: sixty five percent of rapes of white victims are by whites, and ninety percent of rapes of African Americans are by African Americans.
Historically, violence against women was quite rare in tribal societies and when it did occur, it was punished severely. Federal policy has vacillated between supporting and eradicating tribes, and laws enacted during the various "eradication" eras have had lasting negative impacts. The impact has included breakdowns of tribal cultures and difficult socio-economic statistics on many reservations.
The fractured nature of criminal jurisdiction makes it difficult to consistently prosecute crimes occurring in Indian country. Statistics show that 9 out of 10 sex crimes reported on reservations are perpetrated by non-Native men. Only the federal government can prosecute crime committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country. While there are special federal statutes addressing these crimes, it is not enough to have the laws on the books - the laws must be enforced. The Department of Justice has found that U.S. Attorneys fail to prosecute 75% of all reported cases of violence on reservations
Since a significant portion of domestic violence and sexual assaults are committed by non-Indians against Indian women, and the federal government is the only one who can prosecute those crimes, when the federal government declines to prosecute, there is no punishment at all. Even when the crimes are committed by Indians, and the tribe can thus prosecute them, the Indian Civil Rights Act limits the punishment that can be imposed.
All these obstacles make it even more likely that American Indian women will not report the crimes to the authorities and that the violence will consequently continue unchecked. Indeed, Amnesty International has issued a report calling the problem a human rights violation.
- Amnesty International, Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA (2007)
- Peacock, et al, Community-Based Analysis of the US Legal System's Intervention in Domestic Abuse Cases Involving Indigenous Women (Dept of Justice, March 2003)
- Thurman, et al., Violence Against Indian Women, Final Revised Report (National Institute of Justice 2003)
- National Violence Against Women Survey (Tjaden & Thomas 2000)
- Valencia-Weber & Zuni, Domestic Violence and Tribal Protection of Indigenous Women in the U.S., 69 St. Johns L. Rev. 69 (1995)
- Stephanie Wahab & Lenora Olson, Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Assault in Native American Communities, 5 Trauma, Violence & Abuse 353 (2004)
- Zion & Zion, Hozho' Sokee' - Stay Together Nicely: Domestic Violence Under Navajo Common Law, 25 Ariz. St. L. J. 407 (1993)