Study Shows Low-Income Native American Women Suffer High Rates of Domestic Abuse

Low-income Native American women are at least twice as likely to suffer physical or sexual assault at the hand of their partner than the average U.S. woman, according to an article published this week in BMC Medicine. This risk is greatly increased if the women live in very poor socioeconomic conditions.

Researchers from the University of New Mexico and University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center found that more than half of women questioned reported having been assaulted by a partner during their lifetime; one in eight women had been raped by a partner. Thirty percent of the women that were currently in a relationship had been abused by their partner during the last year, and over half of these women sustained injuries.

"These rates are far higher than population-based national and state estimates for reproductive age U.S. women," write the researchers. Around a quarter of U.S. women are physically and/or sexually assaulted by a partner during their lifetime, and each year between 1 and 17 percent of U.S. women are assaulted by their partner, according to estimates.

In the study, 312 Native Americans who were visiting a clinic for low-income pregnant and childbearing women in southwestern Oklahoma were asked to fill in a questionnaire about their experiences of assault by a partner and about their socioeconomic circumstances. These women were enrolled in one of 29 different tribes, and some 59 percent of the women had non-Native American partners.

Thirty-nine percent of the women questioned had been severely assaulted by a partner at some point in their life. This included being kicked, bitten, or hit with a fist, being choked, or being hit with an object. One in five of the women reported that they had been ‘beaten up', and almost one in nine had been threatened with a knife or a gun.

Nearly 75 percent of the women questioned lived at or below the federal poverty level, and 30 percent lived in severe poverty (on income less than half of the officially-designated poverty level). However, living on low income did not, by itself, put women at higher risk of assault by their partner. Women were four times more likely to have been assaulted by their partner if they experienced additional severe socioeconomic conditions, as indicated by living in severe poverty, receiving public assistance, or having a partner who had not graduated from high school.

"The severely depressed socioeconomic conditions under which a disproportionate percentage of Native American families lives may explain their higher rates of ‘intimate partner violence'," write the researchers. Lorraine Halinka Malcoe, the lead author on the study, said: "Primary prevention of domestic abuse of Native American women will likely require fundamental redress of social inequities that negatively impact Native American families. The study findings also underscore the need for programs and services designed to address the needs of abused Native American women."

In response to the study, Carole Nez, Board President for Morning Star House, a domestic violence resource center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said: "As Native American women, we are faced with many obstacles, including a high rate of domestic violence, and the poorer we are the more severely we suffer at the hands of our intimate partners. Many Native American women are dying, so we need more resources to address the findings of these researchers to implement needed programs to stop domestic violence."


This press release is based on the following article:

"Socioeconomic disparities in intimate partner violence against Native American women: a cross-sectional study," Lorraine Halinka Malcoe, Bonnie M Duran, and Juliann M Montgomery,  BMC Medicine 2004, 2:20;  To be published Monday 24 May 2004

Upon publication this article will be freely available according to BMC Medicine's Open Access policy at: Please quote the journal in any stories that you write, and link to the article if you are writing for the web.

Prior to publication, journalists can read the full text of this study under embargo at:

For further information, please contact the lead author Dr Lorraine Halinka Malcoe by email at or to reach her by phone, contact Cindy Foster, Public Affairs Coordinator, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, on (505) 272-0260.

BMC Medicine ( publishes original research articles, technical advances and study protocols in any area of medical science or clinical practice. To be appropriate for BMC Medicine, articles need to be of special importance and broad interest. BMC Medicine is published by BioMed Central (, an independent online publishing house committed to providing Open Access to peer-reviewed biological and medical research. This commitment is based on the view that immediate free access to research and the ability to freely archive and reuse published information is essential to the rapid and efficient communication of science.  BioMed Central currently publishes over 100 journals across biology and medicine. In addition to open-access original research, BioMed Central also publishes reviews, commentaries and other non-original-research content. Depending on the policies of the individual journal, this content may be open access or provided only to subscribers.

Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322

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