Friday, May 25, 2012

Justice scarce for Native American and Alaska Native women

The New York Times reported a few days ago on the particular challenges facing American Indian and Alaska Native victims and survivors of sexual assault.  The headline for Timothy William's story is "For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape, Rare Justice," and the dateline is Emmonak Alaska, population 831.  The rate of sexual assault among American Indian and Alaska Native women is more than twice the national average; about a third of these indigenous women will be victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes.  Yet the issue of assaults against these women has become a "major source of discord in the current debate between the White House and the House of Representatives over the latest reauthorization of the landmark Violence Against Women Act of 1994. A Senate version, passed with broad bipartisan support, would grant new powers to tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians suspected of sexually assaulting their Indian spoues or domestic partners."

The story focuses not only on the politics of jurisdiction over cases against those accused of rape and sexual assault against indigenous women, but also on the practical obstacles that rural and remote geography permit.  Williams writes:
No place, women's advocates say, is more dangerous than Alaska's isolated villages, where there are no roads in or out, and where people are further cut off by undependable telephone, electrical and Internet service. 
According to the Alaska Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in villages like Emmonak is "as much as 12 times the national rate."  Anecdotally, women in places like Emmonak indicate they don't know anyone who has not been raped or the target of attempted rape.

My related law review article, "Place Matters:  Domestic Violence and Rural Difference," is available for download here; the part starting at page 405 is especially relevant.

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