SEATTLE - When someone you love goes missing the days are torture.
Alyssa McLemore vanished 10 years ago in Kent after calling 911 for help.
McLemore’s case is an example of what Urban Indian Health Institute is calling an invisible epidemic.
“The reason why people didn’t know it was an epidemic it’s because nobody has cared up to this point on what’s happening in our communities,” Urban Indian Health Institute Director Abigail Echo-Hawk said.
The CDC says native women have up to a 10 times higher rate of experiencing violence on reservations but until UIHI’s report there was little data of urban living which accounts for the majority of the native population. The group says 71% of Native American live in urban cores across America.
“In Washington State and Seattle in particular had some of the highest rates of missing and murdered indigenous woman in the 71 cities in which we looked,” Echo-Hawk said.
They studied 506 cases in those 71 cities and Echo-Hawk says Seattle had the highest number of murdered native women in part because this region has a larger population.
“It’s easier for predators to victimize individuals that nobody will care about if they are gone except for their families,” Echo-Hawk said.
But some at a Seattle city council meeting on Wednesday trying to come up with solutions to the issues highlighted in the report.
“Better data collection is the number one thing,” Echo-Hawk said.
UIHI which is a division of the Seattle Indian Health Board says many cases are under reported or misclassified like in the case of Nicole Westbrook.
“She was shot and killed in Pioneer Square, she was classified as a white woman,” Echo-Hawk said.
But small steps are being taken towards progress.
They say the King County Board of Health is taking it on as a policy level and on the state level a law was passed requiring a study of the problem.