Native American girls have the highest risk of imprisonment in the nation, according to a report published by the Human Rights Project for Girls.
“The report also states that girls in the juvenile justice system are disproportionately victims of sexual violence…Native American women and girls are also 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than any other women in the U.S.,” IndianCountryTodayMediaNetwork.com reported
Girls of color who experience sexual abuse and violence are overwhelmingly represented in the juvenile justice system because of their response to their traumatic experiences, the report says.
“Common reactions to these types of trauma often include running away from home, substance abuse and truancy. These status violations top the list of crimes for which girls are most likely incarcerated,” the Network reported.
“Prosecuting sexual assault in Indian country has been a low priority for federal prosecutors until very recently. In many tribal communities, reporting sexual abuse or rape did not result in anything resembling justice,” said Sarah Deer, sexual and domestic violence for Native American women advocate, and law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn.
“Victims are left to fend for themselves. In trying to cope with trauma, victims may do things that seem counterproductive. Drugs and alcohol may be a young girl’s effort to self-medicate and dull the memories of abuse.”
The lack of prosecution and support for girls who suffer sexual abuse is two-fold, according to the report. Abusers are shielded from accountability and girls are sent deeper into the justice system, setting into motion a cycle of abuse and imprisonment.
THE REPORT RECOMMENDS:
Enacting universal Safe Harbor laws in all states that would offer immunity to trafficked youth and ensure that they are treated as victims rather than perpetrators.
Strengthen the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act that sets standards for states operation of juvenile justice systems, enacted in 1974, but not reauthorized since 2002.
Use Medicaid funds to improve quality care and trauma services for girls in child welfare.
“Our societal response of getting tougher on crime and incarcerating children, rather than addressing their needs, has not worked,” said Susan Koepplinger, former executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center.
“We now have enough knowledge to interrupt the impact of trauma on human beings. We can help people learn meaningful self-care using mind/body cultural healing. These maladaptive behaviors that land kids in jail are really just trauma acting out.”