In 2019, Operation Lady Justice, an initiative to create a task force to determine the cause of, and determine solutions to, high levels of extreme violence against Native American women, was signed into law by way of an executive order signed by President Trump. This comes after years of organized activism on the part of Native American communities to address the dual issue of violence against Native American women and the lack of support from the state to investigate and prosecute those responsible.
Though Operation Lady Justice marks one of the first times governmental funding has been put towards addressing this major issue, some believe it does not dedicate enough funding and support for impacted communities. Additionally, the task force has been criticized for the representatives appointed to it, a lack of clear, actionable goals, and its roundtable methodology that requires survivors to speak to their victimization.
Despite the flaws with Operation Lady Justice, some have used it as a rallying cry to further advocate for the protection of Native American women. In the wake of this order’s signing, Native American women have banned together in Massachusetts to learn self-defense to better defend themselves from attack, according to a story from NPR. The curriculum for this self-defense session, led by domestic abuse survivor Shanda Poitra, includes basic, physical self-defense techniques, but also how to recognize, evaluate, and respond to imminent threats. This instance highlights just one of many ways Native American women are tackling this issue.
The Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute addresses this issue through its “Our Bodies, Our Stories” program. This program strives to raise awareness on the issue by providing a plethora of information on the subject, such as the sobering results of a survey of 148 Native American women living in Seattle that reveals 94% reported having been raped or coerced in their life.
While gender-based violence and sexual assault are still devastating issues across all ethnic groups, a 2010 report by the US Department of Justice reveals that women of Native American heritage are the most at-risk ethnic group to become victims of kidnapping, stalking, physical abuse, and sexual assault, with four of every five Native American women reporting that they have experienced violence in their lifetime. Perhaps most alarming is that 56% of all Native American women surveyed said that they have experienced sexual violence.
Operation Lady Justice is a step in the right direction, but the momentum for justice for Native American women must continue if solutions can develop.