Understanding the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Crisis: An Analysis of the NamUs Database

AuthorMorgan B. Hawes,Danielle C. Slakoff,Nikolay Anguelov
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2023, Vol. 34(2) 184 –207
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034221098909
Understanding the Missing
and Murdered Indigenous
Women Crisis: An Analysis
of the NamUs Database
Morgan B. Hawes1, Danielle C. Slakoff2,
and Nikolay Anguelov3
Within the United States, there is an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous
women. Using data from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System
(NamUs) repositories on missing and unidentified women, we examined how
demographic and regional differences affected case status. Within the NamUs
database, we found that American Indian/Alaska Native women are 135% more likely
to be listed within the “unidentified remains” cases than women of other races. The
results also showed that in states with relatively high urban population densities,
women of all races were 250% more likely to be found dead and remain unidentified
than women in places with a low urban population. We conclude by discussing three
areas in which policy can help bring Indigenous women’s plight back to the fore: (a)
in data collection efforts, (b) in increased support for Tribal police, and (c) via the
media’s purposeful focus on Indigenous issues.
missing and murdered Indigenous women, American Indian/Alaska Native, NamUs,
femicide, data collection
In the United States, adults have the right to disappear, which makes collecting statistics
on missing people a complex task. Currently, there are only two federal repositories that
1University of Massachusetts Boston, USA
2California State University, Sacramento, USA
3University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, USA
Corresponding Author:
Danielle C. Slakoff, Assistant Professor, Division of Criminal Justice, California State University,
Sacramento, 6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819, USA.
Email: Danielle.slakoff@csus.edu
1098909CJPXXX10.1177/08874034221098909Criminal Justice Policy ReviewHawes et al.
Hawes et al. 185
collect demographic data on missing and/or murdered individuals. According to data
from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC, 2014), which only provides sum-
mary statistics to the public, there were nearly 168,000 missing adult cases in 2014, of
which 70,000 were female. Of all cases housed within the NCIC database, 2,106 were
identified as an American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) person. The National Missing
and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs, 2018), the national centralized repository
for missing and unidentified persons, estimates that there are approximately 100,000
active missing persons cases on a given day in the United States.
In the United States, violence against women continues to be a widespread issue.
According to Smith (2018), in 2016, the rate of homicides perpetrated against women
increased from 10.2% to 12.2% from the previous year. That noted, compared with
other groups, AI/AN women are victimized at disproportionately high rates (Rosay,
2016; Williams, 2012). According to former Associate Attorney General Thomas
Perrelli, “Native women are murdered at rates more than 10 times the national aver-
age, yet Natives only represent 2% of the total population” (as cited in Pember, 2016,
para. 5). In addition, findings from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence
Survey (NISVS) indicate that an estimated four of five AI/AN women have experi-
enced violence during their lifetime (Rosay, 2016). Alarmingly, Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) data from 2017 report that homicide is the fourth lead-
ing cause of death for AI/AN women between the ages of 1 and 20, and the sixth lead-
ing cause for AI/AN women aged 20 to 44 years (Kochanek et al., 2019). Yet, despite
the higher rate of violence AI/AN women and girls face compared with women and
girls of other races, we continue to see very little media attention given to missing
Indigenous women and girls (Slakoff, 2020). Instead, missing White women and girls
receive a disproportionate amount of attention (Slakoff & Fradella, 2019).
Given what past research says about the increased risk for AI/AN women going
missing and being murdered, this study used NamUs data to examine the differences
between still missing and unidentified remains of women by race (AI/AN vs. non-
Native). Specifically, we conducted logistic regressions to examine whether there
were demographic and/or regional differences between AI/AN women and women of
other races. These analyses allowed us to examine variations in vulnerability between
the two groups. Our research concludes with policy implications related to the media’s
erasure of Indigenous lives, issues with tracking missing persons, and interagency col-
laboration between Tribal and other law enforcement agencies.
Literature Review
The Current Epidemic: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
Over the past decade, the MMIW issue has grown from a grassroots campaign to a
federal initiative in both Canada and the United States. Canada established the
National Coalition for our Stolen Sisters in 2002. Afterward, a number of agencies
such as Amnesty International, the Native Women’s Association, the United Nations,

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