Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A Continental Problem

by hunter_c on Mars 4, 2016 - 1:20pm

The issue of missing, murdered, and heavily abused Native American women have been a problem in Canada and the United Sates for some time now, and each country/state/province seems to take a different approach on how to deal with the situation, and how to report it. The following news sources are from Montreal, Toronto, Minnesota and lastly, Minnesota, as well. Using these sources, it will be shown that the issue of severely abused and neglected Native American women is indeed a very sad reality, and one that should be dealt with more efficiently both in Quebec, Ontario and the United States.

 

An article published by The Star, titled, “Quebec probes alleged police abuse of aboriginal women” written by Allan Woods, provides some insight into the case of eight police officers who assaulted aboriginal women in Val-d’Or. Allegedly, a number of women were forced or paid to perform sexual acts for police officers on duty inside a police station. Other women also stated that they were beaten, harassed, and dumped on the outskirts of town in the middle of winter, forcing them to walk home while intoxicated. The Quebec government responded to these claims by calling in an external police force to investigate the situation, but the government also added that they would need, “further proof of the need for an inquiry into the fate of missing and murdered aboriginal women across Canada” as the Mr. Woods puts it. According to Guy Lapointe, a spokesperson for the Quebec police force, five of the officers accused of these charges are still posted in Val-d’Or and the remaining three have moved onto other posts in the province. There was a ninth police officer accused of two counts of sexual assault, but he has since passed away. That being said, all eight officers have been placed on administrative leave while the Montreal police force investigates these allegations. Furthermore, the SQ has hired a new commanding officer to lead the 60 officers still posted in the small mining town and have included a “working group that will focus on training officers in their interactions with aboriginals.”

There are other cases several years ago where women were forced to perform oral sex for $200, and they were paid in either in cash or cocaine. Another woman tells the story of when she was 19 years old she was arrested for having a beer in public, and when brought into the interrogation room she was brutally raped by the police officer. This is just one example of many, and a number of these women are reported saying they had filed complaints about the abuse but nothing was done, and an investigation never took place.

 

Unfortunately, these incidents are not unique to Quebec. An article published by The Guardian entitled, “Crimes against Native American women raise questions about police response” written by Zoe Sullivan, shows us that this issue seems to be a continental problem. In Northern Minnesota, several aboriginal women have gone missing and it is speculated that they were recruited into sex trafficking. Moreover, three Native American women have been killed and three have gone missing since May 2015, and virtually nothing has been done by local police and it has received zero media coverage. Patti Larsen, an activist committed to preventing violence against Native American women was reported saying that a lot of these disappearances have to be linked to “some sort of trafficking” and even Chris Stark, a sex trafficking researcher, agrees with these claims. According to federal data, Native women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as oppose to other races, and they are also subject to high rates of domestic violence. These issues in conjuncture with poverty and substance abuse make them an easy target for recruiters. A 2007 review of criminal records in Northern Minneapolis showed that a shocking 24% of prostitution arrests were Native American women, all while they only make up about 2% of the population. These statistics may also have something to do with the extreme abuse these women endure from a young age.

Many aboriginal women also face the issue of police not taking statements and dismissing their pleas for help. A woman in Minnesota named Edith Chavez was drugged and kidnapped, but, fortunately, she managed to escape her abductor. Unfortunately, when she finally got to police they ignored her horrifying story and instead decided to arrest and detain her for an unpaid traffic ticket dating back to 2011. The police department responsible refused to comment on this incident. Since many Native American women have had negative experiences with law enforcement, they hesitate to go to the police for help; resulting in many situations remaining unreported.

 

Sadly, it appears as though the sexual assault does not start, or stop, at police officers. It is a reality that has been plaguing these women for years. An article titled, “Sexual violence scars Native American women” by Kavitha Chekuru sheds light on some of the deeper rooted problems concerning the issues discussed earlier. A woman interviewed in this article named Lisa Brunner recounts the story of her disturbing childhood, full of physical and sexual violence in which Brunner describes her life as being literally “born into violence.” Thankfully, she now works as a spokesperson for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, specifically in Native American communities. According to the US Department of Justice, almost 50% of aboriginal women have been raped, beaten or stalked and one in three will be raped in their lifetime. Furthermore, these women are murdered ten times more frequently than women of any other race.

Despite these staggering numbers, little has been done. Stories like Lisa Brunner are not the first, and will certainly not be the last if the justice system continues to turn a blind eye to horrifying situations like these. Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw nation in Oklahoma was reported saying that they’ve had “an epidemic of sexual violence.” The lack of prosecutions may be one of the reasons these acts of violence happen all too often in these communities, and according to the Government Accountability Office, from 2005-2009, 67% of sexual abuse cases that were sent to the federal government for trial were declined because of “lack of evidence” and “issues with witnesses.” As stated previously in my article, often times these victims do not go to the police for this very reason.

 

On a lighter note, an article featured in the Montreal Gazette by Karen Seidman entitled, “Montreal marchers hope missing and murdered native women become an election issue” suggests that there may be some hope for Native American women in Quebec, as well as Canada. Every year, Montreal citizens march on Atwater Avenue and Saint-Catherine to show their support towards Native American women and in 2015 it was the 10th Annual March and Vigil for Missing and Murdered Native Women. Many citizens wear red coats to show their support and many have signs as well, such as, “All women are sacred” and “Missing but not forgotten”. The purpose of this march is to spread awareness about missing aboriginal women and girls in Quebec and across Canada, because there seems to be a lack of publicity and awareness in this province. Emmanuelle Walter, an author who wrote a book about two girls who went missing from Quebec back in 2008, say that police are “slow to react when a native girl goes missing” and that there is “systemic racism”. Despite this reality, there have been steps taken in the right direction. The director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal was reported confirming that there has been an agreement with the Montreal police force to develop a stricter procedure when dealing with missing aboriginal women and girls, to find more of these missing girls and to hopefully, prevent it in the future. These are small steps, but they are nevertheless steps in the right direction.

 

In conclusion, there appears to be a very large disconnect with what happens to women in the Native American communities, and what we, the people, do about it. More than any other demographic, these women are being murdered, assaulted and abused and not much is being done about it. To be fair, the Quebec police force and the SQ is taking more steps to prevent cases like this than the police force in Minnesota, and I feel like it has been taken slightly more seriously. There is an apparent outrage within the Quebec community about this issue, which is why there is a march every year in Montreal, whereas in Minnesota it was made clear by several people that not much has been done, legally or otherwise. Despite the actions taken in Montreal, I don’t believe that is enough, I think we should be doing more to prevent abuse to women everywhere, but specifically this demographic since clearly they’re overwhelmed by murder, sex trafficking, and assault cases. I think that uniting both the Native American community and the rest of the population will reduce crimes because it won’t seem like a distant problem, it would affect everyone directly. There should be the same level of distraught when women of any race are being abused or have gone missing, not just a select few.

 

Bibliography

Woods, Allan. "Quebec Probes Alleged Police Abuse of Aboriginal Women | Toronto Star." Thestar.com. 23 Oct. 2015. Web. <http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/10/23/quebec-probes-police-treat....

Sullivan, Zoe. "Crimes against Native American Women Raise Questions about Police Response." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 19 Jan. 2016. Web. <http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/19/minnesota-native-american....

Chekuru, Kavitha. "Sexual Violence Scars Native American Women." - Al Jazeera English. 6 Mar. 2013. Web. <http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/03/201334111633172507.html>

Seidman, Karen. "Montreal Marchers Hope Missing and Murdered Native Women Become an Election Issue." Montreal Gazette. 05 Oct. 2015. Web.  

<http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/montreal-marchers-hope-missin....