American Indians: A Multicultural View of Sexual and Domestic Violence

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American Indians: A Multicultural View of Sexual and Domestic Violence

©2007, 2009 Kimberly M. Hartfield

With approximately two million Native American Indians, 550 federally recognized tribes, and over 250 native languages, these tribal nations maintain separate cultures, customs, languages, and histories, so we should considered them diverse populations.  The reservations in which they live cover about fifty million acres of land in North America.  United States history tells us that the repeated exploitation of the native peoples by land seizures, forced migration, purposeful depletion of life-sustaining herds and food supplies, and exclusion from educational, business, and other economic opportunities has resulted in a devastatingly high level of poverty among them. Unemployment rates average about 37% on most Indian Reservations.

Domestic and sexual violence are not traditional cultural practices of Native American Indians. Historically, violence among the indigenous Indians of North America was rare because it threatened their belief in harmony.  When violence did occur, it was met with harsh punishments and sometimes even banishment.  In order to understand the high rate of sexual and domestic violent assaults against women, the historical treatment of native populations must be seen as a change from a traditionally peaceful people to a culture of oppression, marked by high rates of crime and poverty.  The systematic oppression of native cultures led to a particular degradation of the females in those cultures.  Racism functioned as an emotional and cultural abuse, which has created extremely low self-esteem among Native Americans in general, and particularly among the women of that culture.  The adoption of the widespread use of alcohol has been a major contributing factor to the abuse of the women and children by Native Indian men.

The history of the mistreatment of the American Indians by the federal government and some of the early colonists is filled with accounts of racism, exploitation, forced migration, war, disease, introduction of alcohol, and oppression.  These oppressive practices of the surrounding culture have influenced many of the traditional values and practices of the Native Americans to their detriment.  Indian children were forced into federally sanctioned boarding homes, where many were physically and sexually abused by their caretakers (Sexual Assault in Indian Country: 2000).  Land acquisition by the government, along with forced migration to reservations, also had a very negative effect on the Native American population.  The introduction of alcohol to their culture, followed by the widespread adoption of its use by Native American males, remains a debilitating result of the infiltration of the Native American cultures.  As among other people groups there is a definite correlation between the use of alcoholic beverages and violent crime rates.  American Indians, especially the females, experience violent victimization at an alarmingly high rate. The rate of reported violent crime in Indian territories is more than twice as high as the national average and is well beyond that of all other ethnic groups.

The average annual violent crime rate among American Indians is about two and a half times higher than the national rate.  In every age group, rates of violence are higher than that of any other race in the United States.  At least 70% of the violent victimization of American Indians is committed by those of other races.  The average annual rate of rape and sexual assault is three and a half times higher than all other races.  And these are only those assaults that are reported, as most Native American women probably do not report the experience of domestic and sexual trauma.

Though the reported rates of violence are well documented, the full extent of sexual and domestic violence is difficult to know due to the infrequent reporting of these types of crimes by the victims. The rate of assaults in Indian territories, though disturbingly high, is likely much higher than what the current statistics reveal, and the true extent of the problem cannot be fully known. In spite of some efforts by tribal governments to deal with these issues, by far, too many Native American women have internalized victimizations, and sexual and domestic violence is now commonplace among this people group.

In the context of the current prevalence of violence, historical oppression, and a tangled web of jurisdictional issues, sexual and domestic violence impacts Native American victims with the further mistrust of judicial systems, which often provides them with little remedy for any effective or timely justice.  Jurisdictional confusion and overlap makes any real justice almost impossible for both the victims and all others who may be involved.  Conflicts concerning jurisdiction promote an apathetic lack of concern by officials, which is used as an excuse for their untimely action or no action at all.  This often has dire consequences for victims, service providers, and for obtaining accurate statistics.  Violent victimization, internalized oppression, and complicated jurisdictional issues have placed American Indian Women at particular risk for continued abuse from their Indian spouses and non-Indians alike.


Domestic Violence Solutions: Working to end the intergenerational cycle of domestic violence.    Available:

National Sexual Violence Resource Center.  Sexual Assault in Indian Country: Confronting          Sexual Violence.  (2000). Available:


About mamaheartfilled

I am a mother of eight wonderfully challenging children and nine grandkids, of whom I am very proud. I am also a bi-vocational ordained evangelical minister, and a Christian Counselor. I received my B.S. degree in 2004, studying primarily in the areas of Psychology, with minors in Religion and English. I received my Masters Degree in 2009 in Psychological Counseling with an emphasis in Christian Counseling. I have endeavored to paraphrase the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, for the last ten years or so and am working on a final edit, now. It is my hope that it will be of some use in the great commission of Christ. My ministry is primarily geared toward victims of sexual and domestic violence, including victims of childhood sexual abuse, whether currently or in the past. Since I have personally experienced the healing hand of God in overcoming many of the life issues that Christians may face, I feel qualified and compelled to discuss them in a truthful and open manner, as God’s word tells us that “We shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free.” God has brought me through such diverse tribulations as sexual, physical, and mental abuse, being a victim of a drunk driving accident, spousal pornography addiction, adultery, divorce, remarriage, a very brief, though unjust, incarceration, and having experienced multiple miscarriages and various other trials. I have been asked to leave two Southern Baptist Churches, due to my being a female, ordained as a minister, and fired from a SBC sponsored Christian School (mostly white) for speaking out against racial prejudice in the Family of God. Through God’s merciful forgiveness of my own sins and inadequacies and God’s grace given to me to forgive those who have been a stumbling block to me, I have overcome many of these adversities. God’s word tells us that “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to the purposes of God." Since I have this hope, I believe that God has blessed me with the ability to confront and relate these issues to the Christian community around the world. I hope to be able to use my personal experiences as a ministry of God’s grace and in the comforting of the people of God with the truth of God's mercy. I claim II Corinthians 1: 3 & 4 as my calling, which states: “Blessed be God, the Origin of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Origin of mercies, and the God of comfort; who comforts us in all our troubles, that we may be able to comfort those who are in trouble, by the comfort we ourselves have been given by God.” As I have received the gift of God’s healing, I hope to be able to bring the peace beyond understanding to others with the message of God’s mercy and grace. My love for the Sovereign Lord of my life, Jesus Christ, along with my passion for writing has drawn me to explore these commonly experienced crisis issues from the perspective of my own experience in the hope that I may bring an empathetic and compassionate insight to God’s people. I am now a published author and have several books in publication, including my autobiography, "A Little Redneck Theology." The views expressed in my writings are strictly my own insights, acquired from personal experience and diligent study of the related topics and God’s word concerning them. Though I am an ordained minister, my views should not be considered authoritative. I believe that the Christian community’s ultimate authority is the guidance of the human heart by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
This entry was posted in Adult Victims of CSA, Childhood Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence, Health and Safety, Marriage and Family, Sexual Assault and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to American Indians: A Multicultural View of Sexual and Domestic Violence

  1. Pingback: Conflicts of Censorship: The Pros and Cons | Go Fish Ministries, Inc

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