Violence Against Native Americans: Challenges and Solutions

At the Buechner Breakfast First Friday on Oct. 9, 2015, panel members addressed the wide range of issues associated with violence against Native Americans. Photos from the event can be viewed in the slide show at the end of this post, and a recording can be viewed on YouTube.*

Panelists for the event included:

Deborah Esquibel Hunt, Director of American Indian Student Services at CU Denver, served as the moderator.

Professor Callie Rennison began with a presentation of her research on data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, which offers nationally representative data on non-fatal violent victimization against persons age 12+ living in households in the United States.

Her research shows that the rate at which American Indians/Alaska Natives are victims of violent crime greatly exceeds that of every other racial group. In fact, from 1992 to 2012, American Indians were victims of violence at more than twice the rate experienced by whites, blacks or Latinos during the same period. Prof. Rennison’s other major findings include:

  • Victimization of AI/AN females and males is equivalent, which is unusual
  • Finding a comprehensive estimate of murder of AI/AN people is challenging
  • Rates of AI/AN non-fatal victimization need to be monitored to ascertain if they are increasing, or the apparent increase seen in recent years is due to random fluctuations
  • Relatively little violence against AI/AN people occurs on Indian Lands/ Indian Reservations compared to non-IL/IR.
  • Bystanders are frequently present during victimization against AI/AN. Can they be mobilized?
  • While strangers commit the largest percentage of violence against AI/AN people, intimates are the culprit in the largest percentage of violence against AI/AN females. Are there opportunities to intervene?
  • Victims rarely obtain medical or victim services. How can this population be reached and serviced?
  • Reporting victimization against AI/AN to the police is poor. Can/should this be improved?

Each panelist brought a different perspective to the discussion. Sasha Hutchings talked about the difficulties associated with how victims experience the legal system, including the amount of time an investigation and prosecution can take, the trauma of facing a perpetrator in court, and the fears of dealing with a system in which many victims have little trust. Hutchings underscored the need for the legal system to better understand and recognize the role that trauma plays in a victim’s experience.

Dennis Swain spoke of the historical trauma caused by forced assimilation, including the longstanding government policy of removing Native children from their homes and placing them in boarding schools. Despite passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978, Native children continue to be placed in non-Native foster care and institutions, severing them from their culture. Swain noted that 100 percent of the families served at the Denver Indian Family Resource Center have experienced some form of trauma.

Lisa Calderón noted that Natives are the most highly institutionalized population, in spite of their relatively small overall numbers. Natives — women in particular — also frequently find themselves in intersecting systems, where they deal with both the victim and offender sides. Calderón spoke of the need to apply the theory of intersectionality to assisting Native victims, where all issues are treated together and not approached one at a time. She also spoke of being aware that approaches need to be tribally specific, and that what may work for one group may not work for another due to cultural differences.

The event began with Professor Angela Gover of the School of Public Affairs announcing the creation of the Crime Victimization Research Center. The CVRC will serve as a resource for public, private and nonprofit agencies who work with crime victims. For example, the CVRC will collaborate with law enforcement agencies, the courts, corrections, victim advocacy groups, community organizations, and other nonprofit and non-governmental entities and universities to provide innovative research and analysis on contemporary victimization issues. The CVRC will also help prevent crime victimization by advancing knowledge about prevention research and fostering collaborations among advocates, practitioners, policy makers and researchers.

This event will hopefully lead to many other discussions on this topic, and the CVRC is well-positioned to play an important part in that process.

Photos from the event:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*Note that the video doesn’t include panelist introductions, and the video portion cuts out near the end; the audio still functions, however.

Categories: Events

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