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  • National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

Sexual Victimization in Indian Country: Barriers and Resources for Native Women Seeking Help

This document summarizes the barriers facing and resources available to American Indian victims of sexual victimization, with a focus on systemic barriers found in the organizations and communities most likely to serve native women.

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VAWnet Summary:

Sexual Victimization in Indian Country: Barriers and Resources for Native Women Seeking Help by Sherry Hamby (May 2004).

In Brief:

Sexual victimization is part of the terrible history of oppression, violence, and maltreatment that American Indians have experienced at the hands of the United States government and its citizens. Today, American Indian women experience more sexual victimization than other U.S. racial and ethnic groups. In studies of sexual victimization among American Indian women, rates have ranged from 12% to 49%. (See full document for details.) & Many barriers to helpseeking still persist. On the other hand, American Indians have many resources that are specific to their cultures and their sovereign relationships with the U.S. government.

Barriers To Helpseeking Behaviors

  • Victim Blaming and Prejudice
  • Conflict Between Western Approaches to Intervention and American Indian Values
  • Lack Of Parallels Between English & Other Languages For Terms Related to Sexuality & Victimization

Poverty and Unemployment

  • Geographic Isolation of Many Reservations & Lack of Access to Public Services
  • Jurisdiction Conflicts Between Tribal, State, and Federal Law Enforcement Authorities
  • Lack of Funding from the Federal Government (Often Despite Treaty Agreements)

Resources for American Indians Who Have Experienced Sexual Victimization

  • Sweat Lodges, Talking Circles, and Other Spiritual and Cultural Resources
  • Native Healers
  • Tribal Justice Forums
  • Free Western-style Health Care
  • Outreach by Advocates and Other Providers to American Indians and Their Communities
  • Tribal Financial Assistance
  • Federal Funds for Intervention and Prevention Programs

Implications For Prevention and Intervention

  • Incorporate Culturally Congruent Processes Into Services and Programs.
  • Make Services and Programs Accessible to Community Members.
  • Adapt Language and Communication Styles to the Audience.
  • Offer Choices for Services That Will Protect Confidentiality and Reduce Stigma.
  • Develop Coordinated Community Responses with Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.
  • Lobby for Stable, Adequate Funding from Federal and Tribal Sources.
  • Make Use of Community Strengths.&


American Indian women have proven their resilience and strength through centuries of oppression and violence. Although many outsiders may think that the mistreatment of American Indians is entirely historical, the reality is that there are still many institutions and systems that perpetuate the problems of most American Indian communities and tribal members. American Indian women who are sexually victimized must contend with these systemic and cultural barriers in addition to the barriers that face all victims of violence. Despite the long-term effects of racism and violence, the spirituality and traditions of many American Indian communities offer the potential to help victims heal. Advocates who are sensitive to these issues can make a real difference in helping victims and in creating organizations that will bring these communities into greater balance and move towards the elimination of sexual victimization.

Distribution Rights

The production and dissemination of this publication was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number U1V/CCU324010-02 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC, VAWnet, or the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.