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Almost every Native woman in Seattle has been raped, says an unearthed survey

Nativewoman Seattle News
Here, a Native woman in Seattle testifies about missing and murdered Native American women and girls. She lives in a city in which 94 percent of women say they have been raped or coerced into sex. (Seattle City Council)

A shocking 94 percent of Native American and Alaskan Native women in Seattle have been raped or coerced into sex, according to a survey conducted in 2010 that was finally released to the public on Thursday. The survey results and report, “Our Bodies, Our Stories,” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Urban Indian Health Institute, focuses on the sexualized violence experienced by Native women living in urban settings.

On Wednesday, Susan Balbas, co-founder and executive director of the Seattle-based Na’ah Illahee Fund, spoke at a Native community event about the report. “We’re very committed to doing what it takes to really put an end to this cycle of violence,” she said, “because we don’t deserve it.” The Na’ah Illahee Fund is an organization that promotes the leadership of indigenous women and girls. 

Of the 148 women surveyed, 139 said they had been raped, and most of them were minors the first time they were assaulted. A majority of the women (53 percent) were homeless at the time the survey was conducted, a worrying reality since homelessness is known to make women more vulnerable to assault. The study also found that 42 percent of respondents had a history of attempting suicide, and 34 percent had binge-drank weekly or daily after the attack. The vast majority (86 percent) of women who participated in the study reported that they also suffered from historical trauma. 

This is not the first study to track the prevalence of sexualized violence amongst Native women. A 2016 report by the Department of Justice, which surveyed more than 2,000 Native American and Alaskan Native women on and off reservations, found that 56 percent had experienced sexual assault or rape. The results of this new survey suggest that women living in urban environments may be even more likely than women living on reservations to be raped or assaulted— a significant finding, given that 71 percent of Native people live in city settings.

The results of the 2010 survey had been intentionally hidden for six years, until Abigail Echo-Hawk came along. One day, shortly after she started her job as the director of the Urban Indian Health Institute, Echo-Hawk opened the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet and noticed a label named “Sexual Violence.” Inside the folder was a copy of the 2010 survey. 

As Echo-Hawk later learned, according to an interview with The Seattle Times, back in 2010 leaders at the Urban Health Institute worried the survey data would reinforce negative stereotypes about the Native community, so they decided against releasing it to the public. 

Echo-Hawk, who identifies as a survivor of rape, has spent the last two years working with the CDC to release the survey results and report. “These women gifted us with these stories that were difficult and hard to tell,” she told The Seattle Times, “and they did it for a reason.”

More articles by Category: Gender-based violence, Race/Ethnicity, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Native American



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