At risk

Native American girls more likely to be behind bars than any ethnic group

A woman that was sexually abused talks about her experiences at a women's shelter in Alaska. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

Native American girls in the United States are more at risk to drop out of school, for sexual abuse, to be poor, homeless, or end up trafficked. In disproportionate numbers, these young women are ending up behind bars: Pew Charitable Trust reports that Native American girls are five times more likely than white girls to end up in a juvenile detention facility and boast the highest incarceration rates of any ethnic group in America, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Any girl who spends time in a juvenile facility is nearly five times more like to die before the age of 29.

In places like Minnesota, American Indian girls are 18 times more likely to be incarcerated than white girls. Because of mental illness and addiction, unstable family life is common, and girls that end up in the justice system at a young age are more likely to have children who do the same, or end up in protective services. Many tribal areas only rely on federal programs, making culturally-sensitive support like the Minneapolis Indians Women’s Resource Center — the focus of the Pew Chartiable Trust report — a rarity, for it combines state, local and federal funds to tailor programs specific to the cultural needs of American Indian girls, with special focus on young victims of sexual assault. Tailored programing could “really change the disparity within the Native community fairly quickly and dramatically,” the center’s executive director, Patina Park, said.

Treating victims is crucial work but focus must also fall on ending the cycle of violence in young men: One in three adult Native women have been raped — many by non-Native men, who until recently were immune from prosecution in tribal courts, and three out of five Native women will experience domestic violence.

Read the full story at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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