OK. So I ended up writing a 1200 word piece which I think fairly summarizes the Amnesty Study and the situation of sexual assault on Indigenous women in the U.S. As a descendant of Great Lakes Potawatomi women on both sides of my family, I had moments writing this where I was simultaneously infuriated/hopeless/scared (=motivation) and I wondered whether I am here as a result of sexual assualt used in cultural conquest.
In the end, I provide an objective report, not a rant or plea. No, I am not down with victimhood.
Mostly I am GRATEFUL that there are people out there working ALL THE TIME for justice for these types of crimes. And I am one of them by writing it and putting it out there.
I can’t put all of it on here, because it will be published next week in The Utica Phoenix, but here is a taste:
Jaime (a psuedonym) was raised within a tightly knit family on the Oneida reservation in Upstate New York. At age 18, against her family’s wishes, she married an older, non-Native man and moved an hour away from the reservation to an unfamiliar town. When the relationship turned abusive, she had nowhere to go – her father had disowned her and her family would not talk to her. In her eighth month of pregnancy, her jealous husband violently raped her and almost beat her to death.
After the baby was born and Jaime was unable to work, her husband became increasingly rageful against her. She was scared to tell him that she was pregnant again, and feared for her life. The desperately traumatized 20-year old took matters into her own hands and killed him before he could kill her.
Her nightmare did not end there however, as she found herself in jail, separated from her babies and suffering abuse at the hands of prison guards, who used their authority to subjegate her. She suffered nightmares and depression, reliving the trauma of her domestic relationship. One day, the head guard in her unit caught her in the laundry room alone and brutally raped her. Her testimony was not taken seriously until a number of other victims came forward and the guard was put on trial.
Jaime’s story, unfortunately, is not uncommon. The criminal justice system has failed women, and especially Native and minority women, in investigating and persecuting sexually violent crimes.
For Native women, though, the condition is worse than anyone had ever imagined. A major report published by Amnesty International in May 2007 found that American Indian women are at 2.5 times greater risk of being raped than non-Native women. In addition, the report found that one in three Native women are sexually assaulted or raped during her lifetime, as compared to one in five in the general population. Most of the time, the attackers were never brought to justice.
These and other shocking statistics on sexual assault against Native women and the twisted legal system which offers them little recourse, were finally brought to light with this landmark report – “Maze of Injustice: the failure to protect indigenous women from sexual violence.”
While the report focused on the almost 50% of America Indian women living on reservations (called Indian Country), it speaks volumes for these silent sufferers, the systemized discrimination inherent in such alarming findings, and the efforts being made by Native women themselves to reverse the problem.
Prior to colonization of the Americas, indigenous women usually held esteemed and integral positions in Native society. Crimes against women were few and when committed, punished severely. This is in contrast to the settler’s culture, which was male-dominated. It is no accident that rape and gender-based discrimination in dealing with the Natives were used as tools of conquest and assimilation.