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Teen Health 411

Native American Women & Sexual Abuse

Some days I wish I did not know things. For example, did you know that one in three American Indian women (34.1percent) experience rape in their lifetime as compared with 18 percent of white women and 19 percent of African American women? This may have something to do with the fact that Tribal Law Enforcement cannot arrest non-natives for crimes committed on reservations, or with high rates of alcohol use, or maybe a combination of these factors.

When a woman is sexually assaulted, she is vulnerable and scared, but needs to be examined before she showers, using a police rape kit to collect forensic evidence. In addition, she should be tested for sexually transmitted infection, and maybe treated preventively.

Most hospitals have nurses trained to be a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE), which teaches them how to use the rape kit and care for a rape victim in a respectful manner, but the exception may be hospitals within the Indian Health Service (IHS).

The Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center reports that 44% of IHS hospitals do not have SANE-trained personnel, and in some places, there is only a medical professional available once a week. In addition, there is no support for the lifelong process required to recover from a sexual assault, which happens most often to young women. Community-based organizations, like the Rape Abuse & Incest national Network (RAINN), can fill the gap for support, but once the forensic evidence is lost, it is too late for any chance of prosecution, leaving rapists at large.

Photo credit: maveric2003
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.