Let’s Talk About It: Violence Against Indigenous Women

Statement of Impact

Violence against indigenous women in the United States is widely under reported, but reservations provide unique challenges that compound issues of violence faced by women living in other locations. In addition to racial discrimination, and lack of access to assistance, women in indigenous reservation communities are burdened with poverty, unemployment, hunger, homelessness, no running water or electricity, rural locations without transportation, and dangerous often volatile environments with high rates of substance abuse, gun violence, and suicide.

Even though superficial studies by the Department of Justice have shown that indigenous women suffer rates of violence and assault at up to 50% higher than women of other ethnicities, there is insufficient data to specifically quantify what is happening in First Nation territory.

Types of violence faced by indigenous womeN

  1. Intimate Partner Violence and Domestic Violence
  2. Racial Violence
  3. Sexual Assault
  4. Gun Violence
  5. Trafficking
  6. Murder
  7. Suicide

Factors related to Intimate partner violence

According to A World Without Violence, the CDC study from 2008 reported that “native women report experiencing intimate partner violence at 39% in their lifetime” this percentage makes the experience of intimate partner violence more prevalent for indigenous women than any other ethnicity.

It is known that the majority of intimate partner violence incidents go unreported, and this implies that the rates of intimate partner violence and domestic violence are far higher than the official statistics.

The majority of indigenous women lack faith in “the system” and/or are skeptical of the authorities on and off the reservation. One concern that is commonly expressed in indigenous communities is the belief that nothing will be done.

Factors that impact the prevalence of domestic and intimate partner violence in indigenous/alaskan native communities is high rates of substance abuse and poverty, feelings of helplessness, and loss of control over one’s circumstance or situation.

Factors related to Racial violence

Indigenous Women experience racial violence. Racial violence manifests as prejudice against the way indigenous women look, talk, dress, where they live, spiritual beliefs, lifestyle, and poverty among other things.

Racial Violence has a serious impact of the lives of indigenous women and negatively impacts self esteem, safety and feelings of belonging, mental health, and relationships. It is important to note that the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice reported “70% of violent assaults against indigenous women are committed by a person of a different race- and the rate of interracial violence experienced by indigenous women far exceeds that of interracial violence experienced between white and black persons”.

Racial violence takes many forms and can be experienced as verbal, physical, emotional, psychological and coercive abuse that leads to mental health issues, suicide, physical harm and injury, as well as PTSD and other life long concerns.

Underneath the experience of racial violence itself, is the experience that all indigenous women face which is the systemic racism and racial disparities that make it more difficult for indigenous women to stay in and succeed in school, eat right, avoid unwanted pregnancy and STIs, have access to culturally sensitive sexuality education and abortion information, seek culturally appropriate medical care for illness, injury, or prenatal concerns, and get a job that pays a liveable wage.

Factors related to sexual assault

Indigenous women report high rates of sexual assault which correlates with government data that shows indigenous women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetime than women of other ethnicities. In other words, out of 1000 women 2 non-indigenous women will report sexual assault in their lifetime whereas 5 indigenous women will.

In a study from 2006, “96% of indigenous women who report being raped experienced some other form of violence” which implies that incidents of sexual violence are rarely simply sexual in nature, and often involve racial violence, domestic and intimate partner violence, or gun violence as well.

It is important for individuals inside and outside the medical community to be aware of ways to identify abuse early, prevent, and stop abuse from happening. In addition, the link between substance use, alcoholism, and sexual violence serves to assist those inside and outside the medical community address ways to eliminate the incidence of sexual violence within the indigenous community by simultaneously addressing addiction and providing addiction services and counseling. 2/3rds of all sexual violence victims believed their attacker used drugs or alcohol before the incident occured, according to A World Without Violence.

Gun Violence

Gun violence is a problem within indigenous communities and can increase the danger of violence turning a harmful situation into a fatal one. Research suggests that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of fatality by 500%.

Guns are an important part of indigenous life providing a source of food through hunting, a source of security in a rural environment, and a means of entertainment. However, there is a low rate of gun registration with indigenous communities making it easy to own a gun, but hard to know the location, use, and owner of the firearm at any given time.

With high rates of other forms of violence, it is important to increase awareness about the risks associated with guns and domestic violence. It is important to increase knowledge about how to safely store guns, secure them away from children, and maintain them so that the gun works properly and all users know how to put the safety on.


Trafficking of indigenous women has been under reported and there is not enough data to accurately say how many women are trafficked each year. However, 40% of those trafficked each year in the United States identify as American Indian, Alaska Native, or First Nation.

Risk of trafficking goes up in rural areas, in communities with high rates of gender disparity and discrimination, and among populations with low literacy. Anyone can become a victim of trafficking, but there are factors that make indigenous women particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

Risk factors for trafficking include, but are not limited to:

  1. lack of personal safety (unfamiliar environment)
  2. isolation
  3. poverty
  4. addiction
  5. mental illness
  6. family dysfunction
  7. distress
  8. homelessness

States like New Mexico, Las Vegas and California report high rates of trafficking, but the majority of those victims are Native women and girls. In New Mexico, for example, the Native community makes up 11% of the population but a quarter of the trafficking victims. In 160 cases only about 10% of victims will ever be identified. It is important to note that indigenous women face other forms of violence while being trafficked and are at higher risk of facing racial bias and violence, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, malnutrition, and suicide as a result of being trafficked.

Sexual assault is rooted in the historical trauma of colonization and has serious implications when examined in this manner. In order to combat incidence of sex trafficking among indigenous women and girls, there must be efforts made to eliminate substance abuse, improve education rates among indigenous women and girls, and improve local opportunities for employment, living standards, and emotional support.


Among indigenous women and girls, murdered and missing indigenous women will always be remembered and mourned. Indigenous women are murdered at 10 times the rate of any other ethnicity and murder is the third leading cause of death among native women.

In 2016 alone, 5,712 women were missing or murdered

National Crime Information Center

Mental Illness

Need help? Strong Hearts hotline: (844) 762-8483 this is culturally sensitive confidential hotline trained in domestic violence and mental health

In an article by Kristin Black, Postpartum Mental Health Disorders in Indigenous Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, it examines the rates of postpartum depression among indigenous women. It found that native women had an 87% increased incidence of postpartum depression over that of caucasian women.

Around 26.6% of indigenous people live in poverty, but only about 1.3% of the population identifies as native or indigenous. While the majority of native people now live in urban, suburban, or rural areas it has not dramatically decreased the incidence of mental illness among the native american community.

Each year roughly 827,000 people within the indigenous community alone report having a mental illness in any given year, according to the federal US census on Census.gov, but this number is far higher due to lack of reporting of indigenous data.

Other factors involved in mental health among the native community are the prevalence of child drug and alcohol use, low and inadequate access to health insurance, higher rates of adolescent suicide among those aged 15-19, and lack of knowledge about mental illness can be barriers to seeking and receiving treatment and resources for mental health concerns.


Child suicide is an epidemic within the native community that is significantly under reported.

Acculturative stress often occurs when an individual is trying to adjust to a new culture. This stress can manifest through the victim’s feelings of marginality, depression, anxiety, and identity confusion (Leach, 2006).

Center for Suicide Prevention

In a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2019, a statistic asserts that there is a 139% increase in suicides among Native American women. The suicide rate for indigenous people in general is at least 3.5 times higher than that of other ethnicities within the United States.

What is important to note is that within indigenous communities there is higher prevalence of violence in general with sexual violence and intimate partner violence being the most commonly occuring.

Among women who have experienced sexual violence, a third of women who have been raped contemplate suicide and 13% attempt. That is why when we talk about issues of violence among the indigenous native communities and the disparities that impact women it must be appreciated that these issues are interconnected. The experience of one form of violence exposes native women to yet more types and incidents of violence further compounding the risk for suicidal ideation and attempt.


Black KA, MacDonald I, Chambers T, Ospina MB. Postpartum Mental Health Disorders in Indigenous Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2019 Oct;41(10):1470-1478. doi: 10.1016/j.jogc.2019.02.009. Epub 2019 Apr 10. PMID: 30981617.