Rural Montana had already lost too many Native women. Then Selena disappeared.

Jackie Big Hair slept in her car for days, waking every few hours to fire up the engine and gaze at the frozen highway rest stop where her 16-year-old daughter had been reported missing.

“I just have to be here,” Ms. Big Hair, 50, said, watching semis lumber across the plains. “I don’t know where else to go.”

That was her vigil, along with searches in Billings about 30 miles away, three weeks after her youngest child, Selena Not Afraid, was reported missing from a barren stretch of Interstate 90 in a southern Montana county where 65 percent of the population is Native American. Law enforcement officials said a van carrying Selena home the day after a New Year’s party in Billings had pulled into the rest stop after breaking down, and then reportedly started up again and driven away without her. Nobody had heard from her since.

Read more at The New York Times. 

In Indian Country, a crisis of missing women. And a new one when they’re found.

Prudence Jones had spent two years handing out “Missing” fliers and searching homeless camps and underpasses for her 28-year-old daughter when she got the call she had been praying for: Dani had been found. She was in a New Mexico jail, but she was alive.

It seemed like a happy ending to the story of one of thousands of Native American women and girls who are reported missing every year in what Indigenous activists call a long-ignored crisis. Strangers following Dani’s case on social media cheered the news this past July: “Wonderful!” “Thank you God!” “Finally, some good news.”

But as Ms. Jones visited Dani in jail, saw the fresh scars on her body and tried to comprehend the physical and spiritual toll of two years on the streets, her family, which is Navajo, started to grapple with a painful and lonely epilogue to its missing-persons saga.

Read more at The New York Times. 

Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls

Nationwide, the voices of Indigenous people have united to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous
woman and girls (MMIWG). Though awareness of the crisis is growing, data on the realities of this violence is scarce.

The National Crime Information Center reports that, in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, though the US Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database, NamUs, only logged 116 cases. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women and that rates of violence on reservations can be up to ten times higher than the national average. However, no research has been done on rates of such violence among American Indian and Alaska Native women living in urban areas despite the fact that approximately 71% of American Indian and Alaska Natives live in urban areas.

To fill this gap, in 2017, Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI), a tribal epidemiology center, began a study aimed at assessing the number and dynamics of cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls in cities across the United States. This study sought to assess why obtaining data on this violence is so
difficult, how law enforcement agencies are tracking and responding to these cases, and how media is reporting on them. The study’s intention is to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the MMIWG crisis in urban American Indian and Alaska Native communities and the institutional practices that allow them to disappear not once, but three times—in life, in the media, and in the data.

Read the full report at Urban Indian Health Institute

Mental Health and Girls of Color

Women and girls of all races and ethnicities are more likely than boys and men to report emotional and psychiatric symptoms. Women and girls of color, in particular, face unique stressors that are compounded by the intersection of race and gender identities. Negative sociocultural experiences rooted in racism, discrimination, and sexism contribute to emotional pain, but often remain unacknowledged as sources of distress.

Children of color experience substantially higher rates of adversity during childhood than their white peers, which can significantly impact physical and mental health, as well as educational and economic outcomes.Trauma, in turn, can lead to engagement with the juvenile justice system, which can itself further exacerbate symptoms.

Further, girls of color experience unique forms and rates of trauma and higher rates of school discipline and involvement in the juvenile justice system — which, in addition to increasing the risk for other negative outcomes, also raises their vulnerability to domestic sex trafficking, as reflected in the disproportionately high rates of representation among trafficking survivors.3

Children of color, including children of immigrants, also are affected by law enforcement policies in the U.S. Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionally represented in the criminal justice system. The effects on children when loved ones are detained, incarcerated, or deported are significant yet often overlooked. For example, separation from incarcerated or deported parents is a type of adverse childhood experience, which can instigate complex forms of grief, depression, and stress-induced health problems.

Read more at the Georgetown Law Center of Poverty & Inequality’s Initiative of Gender Justice & Opportunity

Making missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls visible

In January, Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo woman from New Mexico, and Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation from Kansas, joined the U.S. House of Representatives as the first Native American women ever to serve in Congress; in June, the librarian of Congress named the first Native American woman as U.S. Poet Laureate—Joy Harjo, a member of the Muskogee Creek Nation.

A priority issue for Harjo, Haaland and Davids is the epidemic of violence against indigenous women and girls in the United States. “Congress has never had a voice like mine, a Native American woman who sees the blind spots that have existed for far too long,” Rep. Haaland said. “That’s why I’ve been working on multiple bills and legislation to address this crisis.”

Read more at Ms.Magazine 

Black Kids Go Missing at a Higher Rate than White Kids.

The chilling story of Jayme Closs, the 13-year-old Wisconsin girl who was kidnapped after her parents were killed last year, was national news.

But people might be less familiar with the story of Arianna Fitts, a 2-year-old who went missing in 2016 before her mother was found brutally murdered in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Each of these cases is compelling, but the two didn’t receive the same amount of media attention. Some experts believe it’s because Closs is white and Fitts is black.

In fact, data shows that missing white children receive far more media coverage than missing black and brown children, despite higher rates of missing children among communities of color.

Read more at CNN. 

Half of Black Girls Report Being Sexually Coerced. There are Ways We Can Help Protect Them.

All women have a difficult time proving sexual abuse, but for black women and girls, it can be nearly impossible. So they often suffer in silence and abuse goes unreported. The decision by some African American women not to report their sexual assaults may also be influenced by a criminal justice system that historically has treated European-American perpetrators and victims differently than perpetrators and victims of color.

According to National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, among students, 11.2% of black girls in a national high school sample reported they had been raped and 52% of a black Midwestern high school and college students reported sexual coercion.

The purpose of the #Metoo movement, founded by Tarana Burke, was to empower women of color living in underprivileged communities who had experienced sexual abuse. She created a hashtag for the voiceless. But this movement has become a catalyst for white Hollywood actresses. Moving far from its source, one seldom hears references to the founder or to black women in the mainstream #Metoo discussion

Read more at the Journal Sentinel.

Schools Keep Punishing Girls who Report Sexual Assaults, and the Trump Administration’s Title IX Reforms Won’t Stop It

Early in the morning on Nov. 7, 2017, a teacher noticed a 14-year-old girl crying in the hallway at Carol City High School in Miami-Dade County. The girl, who was later referred to in court papers as Jane Doe, reportedly told the teacher, “I think I was raped.”

Moments later, Doe went to the assistant principal’s office to tell administrators about the three boys who she said sexually assaulted her in a school bathroom. A school police officer questioned Doe, a Latina ninth-grader, and asked her to write a statement about what happened. Later that day, Carol City High administrators decided the event was consensual. They suspended Doe and the three accused boys for 10 days, noting that the students had violated rules against “inappropriate sexual behavior” on campus, according to the state attorney’s office.

“School is supposed to be a resourceful place, somewhere you can trust,” Jane Doe, now 16, told The 74. “That wasn’t what it turned out to be. It turned out to be somewhere where they just turned their backs against you.”

The scenario that played out at Carol City High mirrors cases around the country. A school in Piscataway, New Jersey, handed a 10-day suspension for “disorderly conduct” to a black girl who said she had been sexually assaulted on a bus. After a girl in Tucson, Arizona, said that she had been raped, the school district suspended her for “public sexual indecency.” A Brooklyn, New York, high school suspended a 15-year-old female black-Hispanic student “with well-documented developmental disabilities” who was sexually assaulted by a group of boys, according to the complaint, because administrators considered it “consensual sexual conduct on school premises.” At least one of the accused male students was later charged with sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.

Read more at the LA School Report.

Cyntoia Brown Is Getting Back The Childhood She & So Many Young Black Girls Never Had

The cruel joke of being a poor black girl in the South is that you are grown before you ask to be, and your childhood slips away before you can spell. Black girls are not given the kindness that southern gentility cultivates for white girls who make a few bad choices. Instead, black women and girls like Cyntoia Brown are jailed, punished, and killed for trying to survive in a world in which they were never meant to last.

In 2006, at the age of 16, Brown was sentenced to life in prison as an adult for shooting and killing Johnny Allen. Brown testified in her appeals hearing that she had been abused, raped, and forced into survival sex work, and said she shot Allen in fear for her life when she thought he reached for a gun after he paid her for sex.

For the past 15 years, Brown was incarcerated in a Tennessee prison, but this January, news broke that she would be released in seven months after outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam granted her a full commutation. She was officially released from prison Wednesday at age 31 and will serve 10 years of parole.

“At the crux of Cyntoia Brown’s story and her criminalization, we all can recognize that this baby does not belong in a cage at all and never did belong in a cage,” Brianna Baker, a teacher and the founder of Justice for Black Girls, tells Bustle. “She hasn’t had access to her girlhood for her entire life. Yes, we take the victory, but it’s bittersweet.”

Brown’s story is one of personal perseverance but also one of the power and strength of community organizing. The news of Brown’s commutation prompted a wail of relief from the black folks who have been on the frontlines of advocacy work around her case since 2011.

Read more at Bustle. 

Cyntoia Brown and how the U.S. criminal justice system fails black women and girls

One of the things I love about being a professor is the chance to start over. Although I gripe about the end of summer, each new group of students offers fresh insights and challenges.

As I head back to campus this fall, I will be thinking of Cyntoia Brown.

Cyntoia Brown was 16 years old when she was charged as an adult and convicted of premeditated first-degree murder, felony murder and “especially aggravated robbery.” Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old man, had solicited Brown for sex and taken her to his home. Ms. Brown claimed that she had shot Mr. Allen in self-defense. In 2006, she was sentenced to concurrent life sentences without the possibility of parole until she had served a minimum of 51 years.

As with other abused girls, Ms. Brown’s efforts to survive her conditions brought her into the “abuse to prison” pipeline that disproportionately affects girls of color. The abuse suffered by these girls leads to encounters with the criminal justice system, and this system treats them as perpetrators rather than as victims and survivors of abuse. Thus, rather than being sheltered, protected and provided with resources, girls who have been sexually and physically abused are criminalized for surviving their abuse.

Read more at America Magazine.