Victims With Unique Consideration

LGBTQI

Traditionally, American Indian/Alaska Native Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Intersex (LGBTQI) people were held in high esteem by their communities.

Two spirit people served as tribal leaders, medicine people, traditional healers, and mediators. They were frequently viewed as sacred people who embodied both male and female spirits.  Their wise counsel was often sought after because of their ability to view and solve important issues holistically.  Unfortunately, colonization has eroded some of the sacred, unique status afforded to two spirit persons. American Indian/Alaska Native LGBTQI victims now suffer rates of sexual violence significantly higher than the general population in the United States.

American Indian/Alaska Native LGBTQI women, in particular, suffer some of this nation’s highest rates of sexual violence. In a recent study of 152 American Indian/Alaska Native two spirit women, 85% reported being sexually assaulted at least once during their lifetimes. Seventy-four percent of the perpetrators of this sexual violence  were family members or acquaintances. Thirty-eight percent of the surveyed two spirit AI/AN women reported experiencing both physical and sexual assaults by both strangers and family members.

As shocking as these numbers may be, the reality is that sexual violence against American Indian/Alaska Native LGBTQI persons is rarely reported to law enforcement or healthcare providers. There are many reasons that LGBTQI victims do not report these crimes. Frequently, perpetrators may be family members and there may be considerable pressure to protect the perpetrator. Victims may fear being blamed or shamed for their own victimization. Fear that confidentiality may be breached in small communities and the perception that they likely will not receive increased safety and justice within the criminal justice system are also factors. Some perpetrators may even use threats to “out” the two spirit victim to their friends, family, peers, or coworkers to coerce the victim not to report the crime.

Mistrust of law enforcement and healthcare systems are frequently cited as disincentives to reporting. Previous encounters with an unwelcoming or biased healthcare provider or law enforcement officer can prevent a victim from accessing those systems. Unaddressed healthcare consequences of sexual violence can result in lifelong, adverse health issues for victims. Unreported crimes of sexual violence can allow serial rapists to prey upon communities.

Some Indian Country perpetrators abuse antiquated tribal codes and current federal practices to escape punishment (i.e., some tribal codes criminalize only penile-vaginal penetration as a sex crime; non-Indian perpetrators may not be tried in tribal courts; and there is a high declination rate of federal prosecutions for sexual violence crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian Country, etc.). Two spirit victims may find themselves ineligible for some victim services –such as shelters- because they are male or because they are the same gender as the perpetrator.

Mistrust of law enforcement and healthcare systems are frequently cited as disincentives to reporting.

Previous encounters with an unwelcoming or biased healthcare provider or law enforcement officer can prevent a victim from accessing those systems. Unaddressed healthcare consequences of sexual violence can result in lifelong, adverse health issues for victims. Unreported crimes of sexual violence can allow serial rapists to prey upon communities.

Some Indian Country perpetrators abuse antiquated tribal codes and current federal practices to escape punishment (i.e., some tribal codes criminalize only penile-vaginal penetration as a sex crime; non-Indian perpetrators may not be tried in tribal courts; and there is a high declination rate of federal prosecutions for sexual violence crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian Country, etc.). Two spirit victims may find themselves ineligible for some victim services –such as shelters- because they are male or because they are the same gender as the perpetrator.

LGBTQI Documents

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*National Tribal Trial College is a project of the Southwest Center for Law and Policy (www.swclap.org) This project is supported by Grant No. 2017-SA-AX-K001, awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.