The End of Rape in Native America

How can you help someone navigate a broken system? Is it enough that she is “just” surviving? How do you measure surviving? These are questions Sarah Deer asks in the epilogue of her book The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America. Deer poses these questions to challenge the movement to ensure that survivors of rape are believed and perpetrators are held accountable. These questions cast a different light on organizing for SAAM 2018 activities in challenging the movement to address social and structural changes required to end rape in Native America. While we organize for legal and policy reforms we must strongly support, and provide for the health and safety of survivors of rape. The following three questions are starting points in prioritizing rape survivors.


“Federal grant programs, for example, ask tribal organizations to count the number of survivors served, trainings attended, and court cases closed. These questions may serve a bureaucratic purpose, but the responses to them provide little useful information to assess effectiveness. We need new metrics and we should develop them ourselves.”

—Sarah Deer


Are local conversations about rape happening in the community?

Strong public statements by the tribal government through public service radio announcements or annual walks are signals to survivors and to perpetrators that rape is unacceptable. These public statements also send a social message that it is okay to talk about rape and that it is wrong. The well known statistic that more than 1 of 3 Native women will be raped in their lifetime demands rape be an issue openly discussed in tribal communities. The Monument Quilt Project,, is a vehicle for public healing and support for rape survivors that many Indian tribes and tribal coalitions have hosted in their communities.

Do survivors of rape know where they can go for support?

The criminal justice systems continuously fail rape victims. In many tribal communities there has never been a criminal prosecution of a rape case. This reality requires that as we organize for legal and policy reforms services are created and provided to rape survivors. Confidential advocacy programs provide crucial, lifesaving services and should be a starting point for creating a community response to rape.

Do survivors of rape have access to a comprehensive health care response to rape, including access to emergency contraception?

A rape survivor as a right should have access to health care services including access to emergency contraception to prevent future pregnancy without interference. The dangers of rape go far beyond the actual assault to lifelong and possibly life-threatening consequences. Providing health care services to rape survivors should be one of the highest priorities of tribal governments. Organizing to increase support for comprehensive health care services has not been a focal point of past reauthorizations of VAWA, which is a telling sign.