An Era of Violence Against Native Women: Uncovering Colonial Violence in the U.S. Violence Against Women Act

This project explores how U.S. federal policy utilizes colonial discourses to (re)produce sexual violence against Native American women. Focusing on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), her project elucidates the ways in which indigenous women are represented to be ‘problems’ in the legislation, the underlying logics and genealogies, the silences and contestations, and their lived and discursive effects. Ultimately, her research works to decolonise U.S. policy through challenging how federal discourse creates what we ‘know’ about Native communities and violence against Native women.

The Research Project of Allison McKibban (Senior Associate Fellow)

Speaking on the 2021 Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), U.S. President Joe Biden referred to the rate of ‘sexual assault’ as ‘a pandemic within a pandemic for countless [Native] women at risk for abuse’. The VAWA—first enacted in 1994—represents an era of legislation that frames violence against Native American women as a ‘problem’ to ‘solve’ using federal law.

After 27 years, the violence continues unabated, as nearly 85 percent of Native women experience sexual violence in their lifetime. While the VAWA includes ‘solutions’ that enhanced criminal jurisdiction and funding for tribes, little attention has been paid to the ‘problem’ the VAWA ‘addresses.’ Using poststructuralist policy studies and indigenous feminisms, I employ Carol Bacchi’s discursive policy analysis tool—What’s the Problem Represented to Be—to elucidate how the VAWA (re)created, (re)constituted, and (re)shaped the ‘problem’ it claims to address, over three decades.  I intervene in evaluative policy research to explore how the very real violence Native women face is (re)produced by federal policy discourse. Rather than a rejection of the VAWA, my research uses critique to create space to consider alterations or alternatives that work toward definitive sovereignty for indigenous peoples. As the Biden administration prioritises the VAWA, it is timely to critically appraise its role in (re)creating violence against indigenous women.