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The U.S. government is continuing to fail its obligations to uphold the human rights of Indigenous women, as rates of sexual violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women are at epidemic proportions. The Never-ending Maze: Continued failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA reveals that the U.S. government’s steady erosion of tribal government authority, chronic under-resourcing of law enforcement and Indigenous health services, and purposefully complex jurisdictional process have compounded rates of sexual violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and made it near-impossible for survivors to obtain justice. The report follows a 2007 report from Amnesty International USA on the crisis of sexual violence against Indigenous women, and finds that piecemeal approaches to address this epidemic have not changed the staggeringly high rates of sexual violence in the last 15 years.

“The U.S. government’s failure to protect Indigenous women from this epidemic of sexual violence is predicated on a shameful legacy of deeply entrenched marginalization, abuse, and persecution,” said Tarah Demant, Interim National Director of Programs, Advocacy and Government Affairs. “Justice for Indigenous women cannot wait any longer. The U.S. government must mobilize the necessary resources and political will to repair this broken system.”

U.S. government data shows that more than half of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced sexual violence – over twice the national average. Yet rates of sexual violence are likely even higher, as the U.S. government fails to collect adequate and consistent data on violence against Indigenous women.

Factors, including whether the victim and accused are members of a federally recognized tribe and whether the offense took place on tribal land, are often not self-evident and lead to significant delays in a jurisdictional maze. The result can be such confusion and uncertainty between police, lawyers, and courts that no one intervenes, and survivors of sexual violence are denied access to justice. The history of systemic discrimination and bias towards Indigenous people in the U.S. has also negatively impacted the trust between communities and law enforcement agencies, leading many survivors to forego reporting their abuse altogether. American Indian and Alaska Native survivors are also not guaranteed adequate and timely sexual assault forensic examinations due to the federal government’s severe underfunding of the Indian Health Service, understaffing at health facilities, and more. 

Amnesty International USA is calling on the U.S. government to take the necessary steps to end sexual violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women, including by fully restoring tribal jurisdiction over crimes committed in Indian country and increasing federal funding to ensure that prosecution and judicial practices deliver justice. The U.S. government must also ensure that tribal communities have adequate funding and resources for law enforcement, health services, and data collection on sexual violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women. 

Read more:

Reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Crucial to Protecting Native American Women and Ensuring Justice for Survivors (Statement, March 16, 2022)

Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA (Report, April 24, 2007) 

Contact: Gabby Arias, [email protected]

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