Over the past decade, federal government studies have consistently shown that American Indian and Alaska Native women experience much higher levels of sexual violence than other women in the USA. Data gathered by the US Department of Justice indicates that Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the USA in general. A US Department of Justice study on violence against women concluded that 34.1 per cent of American Indian and Alaska Native women – or more than one in three – will be raped during their lifetime; the comparable figure for the USA as a whole is less than one in five. Shocking though these statistics are, it is widely believed that they do not accurately portray the extent of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women.
According to the US Department of Justice, in at least 86 per cent of reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, survivors report that the perpetrators are non-Native men. The Department’s data on sexual violence against non-Native women, in contrast, shows that for non-Indigenous victims, sexual violence is usually committed within an individual’s own race.
Because they considered rape to be an egregious violation, most Native societies harshly punished rapists. While the method and severity of punishment varied among tribes, most communities considered rape a crime against the victim, and the perpetrator was obliged to make peace with her and her kin. Thus, victims, often accompanied by their female kin or village women, meted out punishment collectively, or the survivor could accept payment as a retribution. Most Native societies do not seem to have punished or ostracized the victim, but victims in cultures that valued virginity and chastity in women as an expression of familial honor, including many Plains tribes, could have suffered a loss in status.
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