Violence Among American Indian Women Is High, UWM Grant Hopes To Increase Their Access To Care

Aug 11, 2020

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 women report having experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner, or IPV, in their lifetime.

A 2016 study from the National Institute of Justice found that more than half of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced IPV. But Jeneile Luebke, a Ph.D., student at UWM, says there’s little information about IPV among American Indian women in Wisconsin.

"I knew within my own community, my reservation and my own family, that intimate partner violence was really high, but it wasn't something where people ... you know there were alarm bells ringing about it," Luebke says.

She says the attitude seemed to be "well, this is what happens."

"I thought, 'What is going on?' And if I'm experiencing this, and I'm struggling with it and finding ways to get out and cope and many other women are struggling, then I want to try to use that experience to try to help other people," Luebke explains.

That’s one reason she studied the issue, focusing on American Indian women in urban areas of Milwaukee and Green Bay. Luebke interviewed 34 women for her research, which she wrapped up earlier this summer. 

"Themes that were most apparent in this data was many women, there were about 68% of women experiencing intimate partner violence while they were pregnant. And that was one of the things that stood out to me immediately," she says.

Luebke is also part of a UWM research team that recently received a $2 million federal grant to address sexual assault among Native women. The team is headed by Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu, an associate professor in UWM's College of Nursing.

"The grant that we received is to help expand medical forensic services for sexual assault survivors who identify as American Indian or Native American in the state of Wisconsin, both in rural and in urban areas," Mkandawire-Valhmu says.

Mkandawire-Valhmu says the goal is to make sure women have services that are accessible to them so that that's not a barrier in terms of seeking care. It's a three-year project.

"Our partners will be hiring more nurses and ... one of our partners, HIR Wellness, just hired a new community advocate who will be accompanying women after hours if they have experienced a sexual assault to other facilities in the Milwaukee area," she explains.

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