Violence Against Women, 28(14), 3352 – 3374.
Indigenous women in the United States are among the most vulnerable to intimate partner violence. The purpose of this study was to understand contextual factors and barriers to these women leaving violence.
Indigenous women in the United States are among the most vulnerable to intimate partner violence (IPV), which has reached endemic levels. The purpose of this study was to understand contextual factors and barriers to these women leaving violence. Questions about women remaining in abusive relationships, though pervasive, place focus on women rather than the socio-structural context of historical oppression that gives rise to pandemic rates of intersecting structural violence against women (Pedersen et al., 2013; Smye et al., 2020; Weaver, 2009). Weaver (2009) stated, “The root causes of violence against Native women are firmly grounded in society” (p. 1558). Due to intersecting structural violence in the forms of postcolonial racism, sexism, and classism (Brassard et al., 2015; Pedersen et al., 2013; Smye et al., 2020), Indigenous women are particularly susceptible to intimate partner violence (IPV) in the United States (National Institute of Justice, 2016). Importantly, over 80% of such women experience IPV (National Institute of Justice, 2016).
Within Western societies, leaving abusive relationships is seen as a solution to violence with the formal supports of law enforcement, crisis services, housing, and counseling (Smye et al., 2020). Still, the primary responsibility to address IPV falls on women (Smye et al., 2020). However, women who leave IPV often still experience violence from their abuser, the state, and a patriarchal society that chronically undervalues and undermines their freedoms (Pedersen et al., 2013; Smye et al., 2020). Postseparation IPV has been found to be higher for Indigenous women than non-Indigenous groups, indicating that simply “leaving” is seldom a feasible or sufficient solution (Pedersen et al., 2013; Riel et al., 2014; Smye et al., 2020; Williams et al., 2019).
To conduct the study, a critical ethnography (which is a qualitative research method that attempts to explore and understand dominant discourses that are seen as being the 'right' way to think, see, talk about or enact a particular 'action' or situation in society and recommend ways to re-dress social power inequities) with a sample of 231 women across two tribes who described IPV relationships identified the following themes: controlling relationships, losing sense of priorities, using children, socioeconomic stress, family pressures, and restricting relationships.
Results revealed these tactics, which parallel those used in the patriarchal colonialism of historical oppression, impeded women’s escape from violent relationships.