Emily Blue Bird, a 24-year-old mother of two was found dead in January 2016 after going missing on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota earlier in the month. Two people have since been charged in connection with her murder. The miniature dress shown here represents Blue Bird's Lakota name, which was Wicahpi Sakowin Win (Seven Stars Woman), and other missing and murdered sisters. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Report confirms Native women suffer from high rate of homicide in United States

Native women suffer from the second-highest homicide rate in the United States, according to the first report of its kind.

Between 2003 and 2014, 240 American Indian and Alaska Native women were victims of homicide in 18 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the figure accounted for a small percentage of murders during that time, it translated to a rate of 4.3 per 100,000 population.

The rate was surpassed by just one other racial or ethnic group, the CDC said on Friday. But just barely.

"Non-Hispanic black and American Indian/Alaska Native women experienced the highest rates of homicide (4.4 and 4.3 per 100,000 population, respectively)," the report stated.

The report also showed that most Native victims of homicide are young. According to the data, 36.3 percent were between the ages of 18 and 29.

And it confirmed what tribal advocates have been telling Congress for years before they secured passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. Nearly half, or 46.6 percent, of Native victims were murdered by an intimate partner, the CDC said.

Of intimate partner violence, 81.5 percent of Native victims were murdered by a current partner while 12.0 percent were murdered by a past partner. Arguments, jealousy and recent acts of violence preceded the homicide in two-thirds of the incidents, according to the report.

"Homicides occur in women of all ages and among all races/ethnicities, but young, racial/ethnic minority women are disproportionately affected," the report stated. "Over half of female homicides for which circumstances were known were related to intimate partner violence (IPV)."

The report is the first with specific data on the prevalence of homicide for women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as the potential causes.Yet it only offers a glimpse of the problem -- between 2003 and 2014, just 18 states provided the information needed to show how many Native women were murdered within their borders.

Of the states that participate in National Violent Death Reporting System, a number are home to significant Native populations, including Alaska, California, New Mexico and Oklahoma. But other important states like Montana and South Dakota, where high-profile cases of missing and murdered Native women have made the news, do not currently submit their data.

"The racial/ethnic differences in female homicide underscore the importance of targeting prevention and intervention efforts to populations at disproportionately high risk," the report stated. "Addressing violence will require an integrated response that considers the influence of larger community and societal factors that make violence more likely to occur."

The CDC's report comes as Native women return to Capitol Hill to address another pressing issue. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is taking testimony this week on human trafficking, a situation where data been deemed inadequate as well.

According to the Government Accountability Office, federal agencies are failing to collect data on Native trafficking victims. As a result, it's not possible to determine the full extent of the problem.

"In certain circumstances, state or tribal law enforcement may have jurisdiction to investigate crimes in Indian country; therefore, these figures likely do not represent the total number of human trafficking-related cases in Indian country," the GAO wrote in the April report.

"Also, considering that human trafficking is known to be an underreported crime, it is unlikely that these figures, or any other investigative or prosecutorial data, represent the full extent to which human trafficking is occurring in Indian country," the report continued.

Of the four agencies with investigative and prosecutorial powers in Indian Country, only the Bureau of Indian Affairs always collects data on the tribal affiliation of a trafficking victim, the GAO said. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and the network of U.S. Attorneys across the nation either fail to collect the same information or only do so in limited circumstances, according to the report.

In a second report on the issue, the GAO said 27 of 132 tribal law enforcement agencies (LEA) that responded to a survey initiated human trafficking investigations between 2014 to 2016. Of 61 major city agencies, 6 started similar investigations.

"Tribal and major city LEA respondents indicated that unreported incidents and victims' reluctance to participate in investigations are barriers to identifying and investigating human trafficking in Indian country or of Native Americans," the July report stated. "Nearly half of tribal LEA respondents believe that more human trafficking is occurring in their jurisdictions than is reported."

Wednesday's hearing takes place at 2:30pm and will be webcast. The witness list follows:
Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues
U.S. Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC

Director, Office of Tribal Justice
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, DC

Acting Deputy Director – Justice Services
Bureau of Indian Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior
Washington, DC

Executive Director
Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition
St. Paul, MN

Executive Director
Covenant House Alaska
Anchorage, AK

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Report:
Racial and Ethnic Differences in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence — United States, 2003–2014 (July 21, 2017)

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Oversight Hearing on “The GAO Reports on Human Trafficking of American Indian and Alaska Natives in the United States.” (July 26, 2017)

Government Accountability Office Reports:
Action Needed to Identify the Number of Native American Victims Receiving Federally-funded Services (April 6, 2017)
nformation on Cases in Indian Country or that Involved Native Americans (July 24, 2017)

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