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ASU team analyzes data as part of state effort on missing, murdered Indigenous women

ASU team finds data lacking in effort on missing, murdered Indigenous women.
November 24, 2020

Statewide report recommends better data collection, collaboration to address crisis

The website shows rows of faces, many smiling, of Native American women and girls in Arizona who are gone — missing or murdered. No one has seen Jamie for over a year. Priscilla was kidnapped from her home and murdered in 1984. Mary worked at the Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon when she went missing in 1957.

Research shows that Indigenous women and girls are more likely to experience violence compared to women of other ethnicities, but it’s a crisis that’s difficult to grasp because no one knows exactly how many have been taken or killed. With no comprehensive method for tracking cases, the website Justice for Native Women is a grassroots initiative to record these victims across the United States and Canada.

The work of Justice for Native Women, along with federal data sources, helped a team from Arizona State University to analyze this issue for 18 months as part of a statewide effort. The work was done thanks to a law that was passed by the state legislature in 2019, setting up a 23-member legislative study committee, which included many Native American members. The goal was to identify barriers to tracking the violence, analyze the existing data and produce recommendations to solve the crisis. The final report was released earlier this month.

Kate Fox, associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and the ASU team worked with the legislative study committee on examining the data — which is severely lacking.

Kate Fox, associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, is director of the Research on Violent Victimization Lab.

“Our first finding is something that is well known within the Indigenous community, which is that the data on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is incomplete. It really is something that is very difficult to measure quantitatively because of so many different problems, systemic problems, that interfere with the accurate and methodically sound categorization of this crisis,” said Fox, director of the Research on Violent Victimization Lab at ASU.

One reason is racial misclassification by law enforcement agencies.

“They may find a body and not go through the proper channels to identify properly that this person was indeed Indigenous,” she said. “This happens especially where someone might have a Hispanic last name, and that person might accidentally but incorrectly be categorized as Hispanic when in fact they may be Indigenous.”

Another reason is that when adults go missing, it's not necessarily a crime, Fox said.

“This muddies the waters in terms of family members who know that their loved ones are missing, but it’s sometimes very difficult to get a missing persons report initiated,” she said. That can hamper access to services for victims.

The team contacted 92 nontribal police departments and of the 36 agencies that responded, only one, the Prescott Valley Police Department, allowed for officers to manually input tribal affiliation in a report. The others combined American Indian/Alaska Native into one category.

Other barriers to tracking violence include jurisdictional issues, distrust of law enforcement and infrastructure challenges that prevent the use of Amber or Silver Alerts in Indian Country, according to the report.

The ASU team used data from Justice for Native Women as well as from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and the FBI Supplemental Homicide Report. They found that 160 Indigenous females and 474 Indigenous males were known to be murdered from 1976 to 2018, with Maricopa County having the highest number of victims. The average age of the female victims is 31.

“From the data we have access to, we are seeing a very clear and consistent trend over the last 40 years, from 1976, that missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has been steadily increasing,” Fox said. “This is an alarming trend.”

The legislative study committee was led by state Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, of the White Earth Ojibwe.

“We have also seen that missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is not just a rural reservation problem," she said. "Maricopa County and our urban police departments also see a significant number of these cases, which underscores our need for state-level attention to this issue.”

Other authors conducted a field study of families and law enforcement agencies, evaulated the Arizona Victims Compensation Fund and examined criminal jurisdictional issues.

The final report includes more than 60 recommendations.

“Many systemic factors come into play that created missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and those are rooted in racial injustice, racism, oppression and colonization,” Fox said.

“No one-size-fits-all approach will correct this issue.”

The recommendations are in the areas of victim services, resource allocation, training, law enforcement, data collection, collaboration and legislation. Among them:

  • Establish a 24-hour hotline to report missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and address related needs, such as domestic violence services.
  • Create culturally competent sexual-assault response teams within tribal communities and border towns.
  • Require annual training for all professionals, especially police officers, on cultural responsiveness.
  • Implement a consistent missing-persons policy statewide.
  • Develop a multi-jurisdictional “endangered missing advisory” system to promote collaboration.
  • Establish methods for gathering data by tribal affiliation.
  • Require Arizona to participate in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
  • Establish an Arizona State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force.

Several of the recommendations called for more money for agencies and initiatives to fight the problem.

“There’s chronic underfunding of Indigenous communities,” Fox said.

Fox said that a permanent state office run by Indigenous people that would partner with all 22 state tribes also is crucial.

“This would enable coordination of training, resource allocation, relationship-building, collaboration, data fidelity — all of those things that could be centralized and run by Indigenous people to ensure cultural competence,” she said.

The Arizona law is part of nationwide reckoning on missing and murdered Indigenous women. Last month, President Donald Trump signed two bills, the Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act, to establish a commision on violent crime and set law enforcement guidelines between the federal government and tribes to help track, solve and prevent crimes against Native Americans.

The issue of missing and murdered women and girls is solvable but the effort must be led by Indigenous communities, Fox said. The ASU project, while unfunded, was able to find funding for several Native American student workers.

“Because it impacts a community that is in some ways hidden from mainstream society, and because it is cloaked in all sorts of complex oppression and racial discrimination and cultural insensitivity by non-Native Americans, I think people don’t think of it as solvable,” Fox said.

“But it certainly is possible to solve this crisis. And it will take collaboration and partnerships across party lines, across jurisdictions, across genders and across races to reduce missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”

Besides Fox, the ASU team included: Chris Sharp (Colorado Indian River Tribes), clinical assistant professor and director of the Office of American Indian Projects in the School of Social Work; Turquoise Devereaux (Salish/Blackfeet Tribes), project coordinator for the Office of American Indian Projects; Kayleigh Stanek, doctoral student and manager of the Research on Violent Victimization Lab; Sara Julian, Post-Master’s Law and Policy Fellow with Florida State University’s Institute for Justice Research and Development and ASU Academy for Justice; Michelle Hovel (Navajo Nation), Cheston Dalangyawma (Hopi Tribe) and Hilary Edwards (Swinomish Indian Tribal Community), graduate research assistants in the Research on Violent Victimization Lab; Traci Morris (Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma), executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute; Jacob Moore (Tohono O’odham Nation, Akimel O’odham, Lakota, Dakota), associate vice president for tribal relations; Dominque Roe-Sepowitz, associate professor in the School of Social Work and director of the ASU Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research; Morgan Eaton, an undergraduate in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and community members Hallie Bongar White, Valaura Imus-Nahsonhoya (Hopi Tribe) and Mak Mars (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and Fond Du Lac Ojibwe).

Top image of the ASU Charter monument on the Tempe campus by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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With COVID-19, will snowbirds still answer the call of warmer weather?

November 24, 2020

ASU tourism expert shares insight on this year's visiting season

Now is the time when snowbirds flock to the Southwest – and Arizona is a major hot spot for those looking for a warm winter getaway from the harsh weather up north and in the Midwest. Arizona’s sizzling desert turns into a mildly warm winter utopia with beautiful landscapes that make being outdoors especially enjoyable. Some enjoy the buzzing Phoenix metropolitan area, while others cozy up in RV desert camp spots like Quartzsite and Yuma.

These winter visits are valuable to Arizona’s economy and play a key role in the state’s revenue each year. But with a pandemic that has already damaged much of Arizona’s tourism industry, and COVID-19 cases on the rise, the state's tourism is likely to take a hard hit as we head into what would be the busiest season of the year.


Christine Vogt

Christine Vogt is the director of Arizona State University's Center for Sustainable Tourism in the School of Community Resources and Development. Vogt has done research for over two decades in the areas of recreation, parks and tourism. She spoke with ASU Now about what kind of tourism changes we can expect to see this snowbird season.

Question: Because of the pandemic, will there be a smaller population of snowbirds in Arizona for 2020–2021? 

Answer: Yes, we are likely to have fewer snowbirds in the next six months in Arizona. The loss of visitors will likely come from international visitors and retirees who drive in from out of state. International visitation from Canadians, a key snowbird market, is restricted for those who would drive to Arizona and flight travel may not be attractive to some older people. Those who might travel from the East Coast or parts of the Midwest may also view drive or air travel as a risk. Statistics reported by the Arizona Office of Tourism show air travel down 52% in 2020, and the decreases have been significant in the months since March 2020. Many seniors who wintered in Arizona in previous years would have likely flown to Arizona to make the travel faster and to avoid winter driving conditions along the route. This year, those who travel to Arizona have a lot more to consider in their decision to come or stay home. 

Q: What might retirees or those who can live anywhere in this COVID-19 period be considering in their decision to live in Arizona this winter?  

A: Arizona offers an attractive environment for those coming to the state for the warmer winter temperatures. Many of the popular activities for the Phoenix and Tucson areas, both very popular snowbird destinations, are outdoors. Snowbirds can hike, ATV, bird, photograph, swim, golf, bicycle, garden, farmers market shop, visit vineyards, ski — just to name some of the more popular outdoor activities. Retirees are also considering their overnight options. Many retirees own homes in Arizona. Housing developments such as Sun City are an example of an open active winter option for snowbirds. Ownership may also be a mobile or RV park, which often have a range of outdoor amenities yet may be limiting (but not fully canceling) social events. 

Q: What are Arizona’s outdoor travel benefits? And how do they help Arizona’s economy during a pandemic? 

A: Visitors to outdoor areas have both benefits and costs. Visits to urban and rural areas get individuals and households outside, and off their computers, for fresh air, physical activity and restoration of mental health. Some visitors will buy gas, order take-out, or stop at a garden shop and spend money in the local economy. Rural or small communities greatly need these economic benefits to keep their business viable, ensure employee retainment and maintain contribution to local and state tax base. Outdoor retailers have also benefited during the pandemic. Bikes, camping gear, RVs and running shoes stores have experienced increased sales and no inventory conditions. However, many park agencies are experiencing higher costs to keep up with demand. Natural resource agencies are stretched thin to deal with increased public use and cleaning of hiking trails and campgrounds. 

Q: How will land border restrictions affect those traveling from Canada and/or Mexico?  

A: Unless traveling by plane, those who would like to get into Arizona will have to wait. Borders to the north and south have been sealed except for essential travel as a means of controlling COVID. Right now, these policies do not appear to be loosening. COVID is on the rise and our new president-elect is posturing that more limitations will be forthcoming to control the virus. Those in Canada and Mexico will return once the vaccine is distributed.

Q: Who do you think is more likely to reside in Arizona during the winter this year?  

A: Those who own homes and can find a transportation they’re comfortable with. These retirees are likely eager to have a change of environment and spend time outside. Some who own homes may not have left from last season. For example, I live in a 55-plus neighborhood and learned that households from places like New York City, with higher levels of COVID and quarantine mandates, actually stayed in Arizona for all of 2020. Those who have always come to Arizona — meaning it is a tradition — are also likely to visit Arizona in 2020–21. Those who can drive to Arizona are more likely to arrive to the state sometime in the late fall or after the holidays. This includes snowbirds from the Pacific West states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, (according to) a finding from the 2018 Yuma Snowbird Study the Center for Sustainable Tourism conducted.

Q: The hospitality industry was greatly impacted in the pandemic with many service workers let go. How will Arizona’s recovering hospitality industry fare this snowbird season?

A: Arizona’s tourism and hospitality industry were at a “high” in early March when COVID landed at our doorstep. Immediately the cancellation of many events occurred and visitors quickly worked to get home. Some hotels and resorts decided to close in the middle of spring until demand for their experience returned. The summer and fall seasons have rebounded slightly but overall the Arizona Office of Tourism reports a decline of 11% in tourism taxes for 2020 and a 37% decline in accommodation statistics — a combined occupancy and room rate indicator. The School of Community Resources and Development held its semester tourism career fair last week and the number of employers was down 50%. Most who attended were from out-of-state as they could take advantage of online interviewing. And although a few local employers I spoke with said they were working to bring back furloughed workers, many travel industry stakeholders are closely watching their budgets, which are often tied to hotel tax revenues that have declined in the pandemic.

If you travel

Although snowbirds and travelers should always have a medial contingency plan in place before packing up and leaving home, Vogt stresses that this is especially important now. Those looking to hit the skies or the roads should have a plan in the event they exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. Some may want to consider travel insurance in case their health insurance does not cover them out-of-state or out-of-country. And as a precaution, consider taking a COVID-19 test prior to traveling as a way to prevent exposing others to the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control also recommends that you don’t travel if you’re sick or have been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Read more on the CDC’s travel recommendations.

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Nikai Salcido

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications