Indigenous women live in societies, cultures and under traditions that benefits from their voicelessness, invisibility, inactiveness, non-existence, and erasure. The profiling of indigenous women for discrimination started with colonization policies that served to normalize the violence perpetrated against them (Coburn, 2019). Over the years this violence has persisted in some countries in the world and it exists across all socioeconomic groups, cultures, and races. Historically, it is rooted in the belief of unequal power relationships between women and men which promote gender-based discrimination. This essay will examine the form of violence, its prevalence and how it affects women. Further, the effects of violence on the victims, theories behind it, impact on survivors, and how it correlate with issues of oppression including gender, class, and race will be assessed.
The Form of Violence
Violence against indigenous women normally occurs either physically, emotionally, or sexually. In most cases, indigenous girls are forced to marry at a young age, they are trafficked, or they are forced to undergo sterilization (Verstegen, 2020). In other instances, girls are being exchanged for bride prices in some counties (Verstegen, 2020). These women and girls encounter violence and discrimination both within their communities and outside because they are considered as not equal to men (Verstegen, 2020). Further, they are denied their rights to own land, properties, get formal education in schools, and other resources of the economy.
The most prevalent violence against indigenous women is of sexual nature. For example, in Canada, while all women face higher levels of victimization, there are higher risks of sexually related violence for indigenous women which are mostly perpetrated by their intimate partners. Statistical results from study by General Social Survey on Victimization, as released by the Department of Justice (2017), showed that the rate of self-reported sexual violence by indigenous women was more than triple that of non-indigenous. The sexual violence figures were 113 per 1000 sample for indigenous women compared to 35 per 1000 sample for non-indigenous women (“Department of Justice,” 2017). In the same survey results, self-reported injuries due to spouse violence were found to be 51% for indigenous female victims and 39% for non-indigenous victims (“Department of Justice,” 2017). In the United States, reports of sexual violence against women and the failure of government agencies to contain the situation are very much common within indigenous communities. About 4 in every 5 Native American women reported how they survived sexual violence in 2017 (Cheek & Simpson, 2018). This is about 80% when converted to a proportional perspective.
A number of studies have indicated that sexual violence and abuses are common among indigenous girls. For example, the findings published by Oikonen et al. (2021) indicated that 25% – 50% of indigenous women normally experience sexual victimization before they become adults. Further, the findings highlighted that indigenous women are sexually assaulted 3 times more than non-indigenous women (Oikonen et al., 2021). This clearly makes sexual victimization of indigenous girls and women a risk factor for future victimization. Sexual violence affects young girls, teenage or adolescent girls, and young women more than old women. Specifically, those aged between 18 – 34 years have the highest risk of sexual assaults at 54%, followed by 35-64 years at 28%, and teens of 12 – 17 years at 15% (“Victims of sexual violence,” 2022). Older women are the least affected by sexual violence, victimization and assault cases.
Effects and Impact of Sexual Violence on Survivors
Survivors of this violence or assault do face painful emotions and experiences which are either physical or mental. Physically, survivors are normally left with bruises, soreness, broken or dislocated bones, sexually transmitted diseases, vaginal bleeding, and even unplanned pregnancies (“Joyful Heart Foundation,” n.d.). On the other hand, mentally, they undergo depression, anxiety, uncontrollable thoughts, sadness, suicidal thoughts or attempts, and dissociation. Emotionally, they always feel disoriented, shocked, helpless, very vulnerable, fearful, numb, angry, and develop trust issues towards other people (“Joyful Heart Foundation,” n.d.). Additionally, they may experience chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, sexual dysfunction, and changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
When someone is a victim of sexual violence, the effects go a long way and extend to the people around them. The effects of violence go far beyond individual victims, impacting their relatives, communities, and the larger society. It affects the immediate family like parents, friends, partners, children, spouses, classmates, or co-workers (“Resilience Empowering Survivors,” n.d.). They may not know what to do to help the victims overcome the mental, physical or emotional damage they have been subjected to. Sexual violence can tear the social fabric of the community (“Resilience Empowering Survivors,” n.d.). Schools, places of work, neighborhoods, colleges, and religious groups could feel frightened, and disbelief when the sexual assault occurred to some of their members.
Sexual violence does come with financial costs to the communities in terms of medical bills, legal expenses, time wasted trying to help victims heal, and incalculable lost contributions of the victims to sexual violence. There is also a great cost to the victim including treatment expenses, victim services, loss of productivity, legal redress, and decreased quality of life (“Resilience Empowering Survivors,” n.d.). General the intangible costs are very high due to the serious physical and mental health consequences for survivors.
Theories about Sexual Violence
Sexual violence against indigenous women can be looked into along the following theories. The exchange theory makes an individual behave in a certain way to either earn a reward or to escape punishment. This theory says men are always violent against women as a way of maintaining their status in the social structure of society (Jewel, 2020). Secondly, there is the resource theory, which views men as using violence within their families to establish power (Jewel, 2020). This happens more so when men lack other resources to persuade women with. It demonstrates that when men have more resources, they pose fewer chances of being violent against women in their relationships. Thirdly, the sociocultural theory focuses on the social and cultural conditions which make violence against women likely to recur (Jewel, 2020). It explains the influence of social factors such as class, education, and income on violence against women.
Basically, sexual violence propagates inequalities of gender, race, class, age, ability status, and education. The intersection of these oppressions produces diverse risks, experiences, and responses to sexual violence. According to data from the Stanford AAU campus survey (2019) minority groups in terms of race, gender and class are disproportionately when it comes to sexual violence. The combination of these factors are the drivers of sexual violence and explain why there are different rates and different types of violence experienced among women.
Sexual violence is the most prevalent form that indigenous women and girls experience oftentimes. Most indigenous girls are forced to marry at teenage, or they are trafficked, or they are made to undergo forced sterilization. These women and girls always experience violence both within their communities and outside because society considers them lesser humans compared to men. Additionally, the rate at which indigenous women and girls undergo sexual violence in the hands of their intimate partners or outside is higher compared to other women. Those who survive sexual violence, or assault normally face painful emotions and experiences which are either physical or mental. They are left with bruises, soreness, broken or dislocated bones, sexually transmitted diseases, vaginal bleeding, and even unplanned pregnancies. They also undergo depression, anxiety, uncontrollable thoughts, sadness, suicidal thoughts or attempts, and dissociation. Sometimes they feel disoriented, helpless, vulnerable, fearful, and develop trust issues towards other people. In addition, they may experience chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, sexual dysfunction, and changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
This violence is explained in terms of three critical theories, namely the exchange theory, which makes an individual behave in a certain way to either earn a reward or to escape punishment. Then there is the resource theory, which views men as using violence within their families to establish power. Thirdly, the sociocultural theory focusing the social and cultural conditions which make violence against women likely to recur. It explains the influence of social factors such as class, education, and income which are the drivers of violence against women at different rates.
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Department of Justice. (2017). Just facts: Victimization of indigenous women and girls. Government of Canada. Web.
Jewel, S. (2020). Theoretical framework of violence against women. Social Change VAWA. Web.
Joyful Heart Foundation. (n.d.). Effects of sexual assault and rape. Web.
Oikonen, J. M., McQueen, K., Chambers, L., Miller, A., & Hiebert, A. (2021). Violence against women. Sage Journals. Web.
Victims of sexual violence. (2022). Rainn. Web.
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Stanford AAU campus. (2019). Identity & intersectionality. Web.
Cheek, A., & Simpson, L. (2021, October 18). We need accountability for those who commit Violence against native women. ACLU. Web.
Verstegen, L. (2020). Violence against indigenous women and girls. International Alliance of Women (IAW). Web.