When the Legal System Fails You

 In Abusive Behaviors, Domestic Violence in Indian Country, Legal Help, Native centered advocacy, Services for Native Survivors, Trust and Respect

The legal system process is intended to protect, right the wrongs, and deter perpetrators from future wrongdoing.  All too often, our legal systems fail to address the issues surrounding domestic violence or dating violence, leaving victims of domestic violence or dating violence without remedy, and even worse, victims themselves being punished.

Many advocates and survivors are left to ask ‘why?’ and ‘what now?’.  At StrongHearts, we often hear from victims that they have no access to justice, no protections and no assurance of safety. We hear from callers that their lives remain out of balance and that relying on mainstream systems of justice result in additional trauma, poor treatment and further stigmatization.

As a victim, what can you do?

First, know that you are not alone in your experience.  If the criminal justice system has failed to meet your needs, remember that you have options to pursue civil remedies, including orders of protection and restitution. You also may have options through tribal court, both civil and criminal, which should be explored fully if you wish to continue engaging with the legal system but do not wish to engage with the state and/or federal system.

If you choose to continue to use the legal system, we strongly recommend consulting an attorney or legal services agency.  If cost is a concern or if you need help finding a legal advocate, our advocates at StrongHearts (1-844-7NATIVE) may be able to provide culturally appropriate options in your area.

While StrongHearts advocates are not legal experts, we recognize that knowing and understanding your options is vital. Our goal is to identify helpful resources and connect you with the right people.  Here is what to expect when you call us.

We understand many survivors may not want to criminalize or make their issues public within their families and communities through the tribal court system.  You may want to consider your tribe’s restorative justice options. Restorative justice, an indigenous form of justice, is an approach that may give you more autonomy in making your own decision’s in the process itself. If needed, StrongHearts advocates can help explain the process and help you find available resources in your area.

If the legal system is not an option or is no longer your preferred option, you may be interested in exploring resources to help you with the trauma aspects of your experiences by considering the following:

  • Locate a counselor or therapist who can help you with the emotional health effects associated with abuse (ex. anxiety, depression, etc.)
  • Speak with an elder or traditional healer for support
  • Reach out to a spiritual leader or find a group with a spiritual basis
  • Lean on your support system (ex. family, friends, community advocates, etc.)

When you are ready, it can be helpful to find ways to acknowledge and heal from the underlying trauma associated with abuse and any trauma you may have suffered by engaging in various legal systems. In this way, we hope to help our callers find safety and healing.

Whatever method you choose, it is important to StrongHearts Native Helpline that you explore and decide what is best for your situation. We are here to provide education and information to meet your needs.  You are in the best position to know what is right for you, and we are here when you are ready to take this step.


If you want to learn more about your options, call the StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Central time to get help. Callers after hours will have the option to connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or to call back on the next business day. 

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