Sexual Violence against Native Women

In “Not an Indian Tradition: The Sexual Colonization of Native Peoples”, Andrea Smith critiques the “white-dominated anti-violence against women movement” for failing to take factors such as race, ethnicity, class and ability into account. By analyzing violence solely as a gendered construct, such a movement fails to take an intersectional approach to the issue. However, Smith also believes that an intersectional analysis (meaning one that does not disentangle factors such as race from gender) is not enough. She writes,

If sexual violence is not simply a tool of patriarchy, but is also a tool of colonialism and racism,then entire communities of color are the victims of sexual violence. As Neferti Tadiar argues,colonial relationships are themselves gendered and sexualized… {W}hen a Native woman suffers abuse, this abuse is not just an attach on her identity as a woman but on her identity as Native (71).

The rest of the article lays out how Native women and entire Native communities are dehumanized and seen as polluted, dirty, and inherently “ratable”, how this contributes to patriarchy,  and the ways in which this impacts reproductive health and environmental racism.
Watch the following video”Violence Against Aboriginal Women” . The brief video highlights how Native women in Canada are impacted by sexual violence. How does their definition of “violence against women” relate to Smith’s claims? How would you define this type of violence and why? Is this an effective video? Why or why not?

What about this video from the Indian Law Resource Center? Does it engage in intersectional analysis? Who is it speaking to, and why? Is this an effective video? Why or why not?
As these and numerous sources attest, Native women are disproportionately affected by sexual violence.

VAWA Presidential Signing Ceremony

VAWA Presidential Signing Ceremony (Photo credit: NCAI)

Recently, Congress re-authorized the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) and added provisions to help curb this type of violence.

As Sarah Deer, an assistant professor of law and a citizen of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma explains:

Until this new version, VAWA didn’t really attempt to address jurisdictional problems that have contributed to astronomical rates of violence against Native women and children. There’s never really been accountability for non-Indians coming into tribal communities and committing acts of rape or domestic violence; tribal governments can’t prosecute them. I’ve heard tribal police say that the white men on the reservation basically flaunt their violence and taunt the police: “You can’t do anything, I know I’m outside the bounds of the law.” So from my perspective, restoring the power to tribal governments will be an improvement.
Feminists and anti-violence activists continue to debate the pros and cons of VAWA. For some folks, such acts do little to change the larger structure and ultimately fail. A blogger called “ComputerBlue” articulates frustrations with VAWA:
The argument is that all survivors deserve “equal access” to the “protection” that VAWA offers.  The anti-racist position seems to begin and end with the idea that we should urge Senators to pass the “good” version of VAWA that includes these provisions.  However, this argument fails to ask if state-based “protection” is helpful for those people who cannot access racist notions of legitimate survivorhood.  This “good” VAWA vs racist/homophobic VAWA framing obscures the fact that VAWA itself is tied to devastating legacies of racial violence.

VAWA directs federal funding to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those deemed guilty of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as provides federal funds to services. It was initiated in 1994 as part of the behemoth Crime Bill Act which, as Angela Davis put itfacilitated the incarceration of more women.  This was especially true for black and Latina women, who, by 2005, were 200% and 69% (respectively) more likely than white women to be incarcerated.  In short, the ‘94 Crime Bill and anti-violence feminists’ advocacy for criminalization-based strategies in general, was a catastrophe for many survivors of color.   This has been discussed at length hereherehere, and here, as a few examples.

[…] Instead of uncritical support of law-and-order legislation like VAWA, I wish that feminist advocates would promote a politics grounded in racial justice that address the profound structural conditions that help drive domestic and sexual violence for so many of us.  A politics that says yes to making sure that non-Native men cannot abuse Native women and others with impunity through the restoration of sovereignty that ultimately creates space to develop community-based responses to violence and doesn’t further empower the colonial state (as advocated by Andrea Smith and Sarah Deer).  And yes to amnesty for undocumented immigrants who are survivors of violence (among others), but not dependent on their coerced participation with police and prosecutors, as would be required from the “good” version of VAWA.  And yes to the public recognition of the existence of queer relationships and access to services for queer survivors of domestic and sexual violence, but why hinge that recognition to a state that regularly and intentionally wields violence against queer people of color who are poor, incarcerated, immigrants, indigenous, disabled, and/or black?  (More on that visionary politics here.)  And critically, yes to pushing back against the state’s invitation to be complicit in “crime control” policies that we know — and have known — terrorize black survivors and others whose bodies are routinely targeted by the state.
What do you think about this? How does VAWA reflect (or respond to) the issues Smith critiques? What strategies do you suggest?
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7 thoughts on “Sexual Violence against Native Women

  1. I felt that the first video, Violence Against Aboriginal Women, was informational, but not as effective as it could have been. Much of the information was simply statistical and I would have preferred a more conversational approach. Also, I found it distracting that they were so evidently reading from some sort of prompt and many of them seemed very indifferent and unenthusiastic about the issue they were talking about. Furthermore, it would have been more captivating if there was more happening than just people reading you facts, such as pictures or short clips.

  2. I felt like the video from the Indian Law Resource Center is sending a call to action clearly and concisely. It represents the many faces of Native women and calls all persons to respond. I watched it with my 30yr old daughter and she said, “Wow mom, that touches me.” It takes an intersectional approach by bringing not only Native women onto the screen, but Native men and individuals that are not Native. The poem speaks volumnes and addresses everyone from government officials to the everyday citizen. It’s effectiveness comes from imploring everyone to take part in protecting Native women and children. Was this ad seen on television? What state did it air?

  3. I did not know well about VAWA, but I felt that VAWA sounds like a surface answer even if it was revised. Not every victim can access the protections, which VAWA is supposed to offer, and what I think is the most important to be noticed is that the law for protecting Native women from sexual abuses is established by the Congress. Most of its members may not have enough knowledge or understanding about the real situations, and they may be including or creating potential perpetrators. In addition, I assume that neither Native women nor Native men have an enough opportunity to involve in the discussion in the Congress. Under the federal laws, which are different from the law among the community, Native men can be invisiblized, and the law for Native women actually may not be working properly for them. It reminds me of the class discussion that people try to show they are taking indigenous people into consideration, but actually people do not hear from them. However, I think VAWA takes an important role in the further discussion. Some people are going to criticize and make new discussion points from the exciting VAWA, and those attention will be very significant to appropriately improve the situations of Native women not only at nation level, but at smaller levels.

  4. The “Violence Against Aboriginal Women” video seems effective and has a call to action for everyone and demonstrates that violence is the problem. And it seems to advocate for an end to violence with the way everyone shouts “STOP!” at the end of the video. At one point, someone says that “men are not to be painted as villains” and they go on to explain that violence is the issue that needs to be stopped. Although statistics are sometimes not completely accurate, they are helpful in this video because it grabs the attention of the audience.

    And in terms of VAWA, I think that “law and order legislation” is not the most effective especially with the way that the hegemonic United States doesn’t appreciate intersectionality. Although VAWA is trying to protect women, it ends up making the situation worse, especially when the police is involved because VAWA is not very intersectional and doesn’t considers different factors affecting one situation. Although VAWA wants to support women across identities, they are still not working to challenge or even address the structure that continuously works to marginalized specific communities of color.

  5. I did not know well about VAWA, but I felt that VAWA sounds like a surface answer even if it was revised. Not every victim can access the protections, which VAWA is supposed to offer, and what I think is the most important to be noticed is that the law for protecting Native women from sexual abuses is established by the Congress. Most of its members may not have enough knowledge or understanding about the real situations, and they may be including or creating potential perpetrators. In addition, I assume that neither Native women nor Native men have an enough opportunity to involve in the discussion in the Congress. Under the federal laws, which are different from the law among the community, Native men can be invisiblized, and the law for Native women actually may not be working properly for them. It reminds me of the class discussion that people try to show they are taking indigenous people into consideration, but actually people do not hear from them. However, I think VAWA takes an important role in the further discussion. Some people are going to criticize and make new discussion points from the exciting VAWA, and those attention will be very significant to appropriately improve the situations of Native women not only at nation level, but at smaller levels.

  6. I found the “To Indigenous Women” video to be engaging because it diverges from more expected formats for advocacy videos, such as the first one in this post. I like how the second video emphasizes that ending violence against indigenous women is a community process. The perpetuator is often just one part of a larger climate that enables violence: “to doctors without clues, to say-nothing neighbors, do-nothing attorneys, and quiet parents with no memories… you make all of this possible.” Rethinking violence as a systemic problem instead of a series of isolated incidents, as this video highlights, provides a new lens through which to think about abuse and responses to abuse. I think one of the challenges in thinking about violence through such a framework is the daunting idea that violence can never truly be eliminated unless the sociocultural structures that enable it are dismantled. This dovetails with the notion that legal means alone may not necessarily be effective, and I feel this aspect of the conversation is sometimes overlooked, especially by well-resourced advocacy organizations that seek to make change in the legal/political realm.

  7. “Violence Against Women” relates to Smith’s claim making it obvious that a person’s womanhood is affected along with their racial identity. This type of violence can be defined as emotional pain, it brings down their self-esteem and their racial background suffers as well. This is an effective video because it voices males, females, and even children in the unity of wanting to stop violence against women.

    The video from the Indian Law Resource Center does engage in intersectional analysis; it describes the abuse on women by men of different races and the role the government has taken in this. I would say it is speaking to all who are not doing anything to stop the abuse against women. I consider this video more effective than the first because it gives a more sarcastic tone to a real situation which guilt trips those who are not doing anything to stop the abuse.

    VAWA reflects the issues Smith critiques by joining women into one category without putting a racial label on them. “Violence Against Women Acts” ignores the racial tensions and why minorities tend to go through this abuse more than white women do. I would suggest making laws within the VAWA to incorporate different races.

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