Effects of Violence Against Women Act still unknown - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Effects of Violence Against Women Act still unknown for Native American women

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MADISON (WKOW) – C.J. Doxtater says in his previous marriages he used all forms of domestic abuse beyond the physical, "whether it was intimidation, a look, financial abuse, using the kids. The physical abuse was just the glue to hold the abuse together," he said.

Though, he fondly describes his first wife as "intelligent." He says she taught herself astronomy and how to play the guitar, "and yet she gave all of that up to support me and my drug addiction. She would fight back, but that too was part of the expectation of being in a relationship – that it would be physical," Doxtater said.

An Oneida member, Doxtater is now an outreach coordinator for End Domestic Abuse, and working to curb the violence that overtook much of his life when he was an addict and alcoholic.

He describes two main factors contributing to violence that occurs on American Indian reservations: historical trauma and jurisdictional ambiguity.

"It was a response to having everything taken away, being put on a reservation, so people were disenfranchised and trying to survive in a system that they were foreign to," Doxtater said. "For Native Americans, they took away men's roles, their decision-making, ability to take care of their families. Women had to step up even more to take care of the family, so they were out there more. In that sense, they became more vulnerable."

Nearly 4 out of 10 American Indian women have been victims of domestic violence in their lifetime, a rate higher than any other race or ethnicity surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control. They're 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Justice. And 70 percent of the violence they Native American women experience are committed by non-Native Americans.

"It's much worse than that," Doxtater said, attributing the numbers to underreporting. "There's not a woman in my family – and I have a very large family – that hasn't experienced some form of abuse, whether it be domestic violence or sexual assault."

More, there is a jurisdictional black hole in Indian country that has made Native-American women a target for abusers and predators, according to End Domestic Abuse policy coordinator Tony Gibart.

Until Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, reservation police could not arrest non-Native people, meaning outsiders had impunity if they committed crimes on tribal lands. Federal police could get involved; however, some Native-women have a sense of distrust towards law enforcement, according to Doxtater.  

"As a child, my first wife was raped by a police officer," Doxtater said. "That prevented her from going to the police for anything." 

After his second wife left him for a shelter when he was 34, Doxtater started getting sober and got back in touch with his roots. "There came a point in my life where I couldn't live that way anymore. I was blessed with finding my traditions – everything from therapists to sweat lodges to ceremony, whatever I could do to make the change in my life," he said.

He says his work advocating for domestic abuse victims is not atonement for his past sins. "For a long time, I did see it as atonement, but an elderly woman said I couldn't use that anymore. She said men needed role models and needed to be responsible in that way. Working with domestic violence is part of my responsibility of being a good man."

Doxtater is now married for third time, this time to a non-Native woman who knows about his violent past.

"In many ways it's my first marriage because I've never been abusive. She's never seen that," Doxtater said, admitting that at times she has become scared, "but she's comfortable enough to bring it to me. So then we sit down and we address it right away."

For American Indian women, the passage of the Violence Against Women Act is only the first step, as tribes have to build judicial infrastructure around the new law, according to Gibart.

"In C.J.'s generation there's been lots of work done to reclaim those values that honor peace, honor equality, that honor women," said Gibart, who notes that after the 2014 federal budget passed, funding to tribal advocates were restored, and the passing of the state budget integrated tribal domestic violence programs with child welfare programming, allowing for advocates to tailor the needs to the programs to individuals.

"C.J. is someone who is a testament to that. His life shows how things are getting better," he said.  

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