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Castañeda, Antonia I. “Sexual Violence in the Politics and Policies of Conquest: Amerindian Women and the Spanish Conquest of Alta California.” In Building with Our Hands: New Directions in Chicana Studies, 15–33, 1993.


In this article, Castaneda details the sexual exploitation of Amerindian women during the Spanish Conquest of Alta California.  She describes the violent acts of the Spanish soldiers as they established missions and presidios in the 1700s- omitted from the archives of historians - revealing that the sexual assaults deeply affected the Amerindian women and their communities. Prior to the missions, the Amerindians were peaceful and nonaggressive people that emphasized accountability and ritualistic practices to rectify conflict without violence. The soldier’s violent behavior led to increased hostility, distrust, and rebellion among the native people and delayed the political and military objectives of the colonial mission. The Spanish attempted unsuccessfully curb the sexual violence through the establishment of policies and legal codes that encouraged intermarriage, segregation of soldiers from women, and prosecution of perpetrators. These laws, however, often protected the native people only when beneficial to the Spanish. The author discusses the political and social devaluation of women as property and spoils of conquest, as well as the justification of rape of Amerindian women by the Spanish concept of religious superiority and sexual immorality. Castaneda states that the sociopolitical devaluation progressed from religious to social-racial origins to social class. Castaneda concludes that the devaluation of Amerindian women through sexual exploitation led to the denial of rights and protection to the native women and their communities. She equates the sexual and related violence toward these women in to sociopolitical terrorism. Consequently, she presents a framework for understanding the anti-violence and anti-colonialist roots of reproductive justice movements founded by women of color. This article is useful for scholars, historians, and activists seeking information on Amerindian history, colonialism, and sexual violence.


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Race/ethnicity: Native American/Indigenous   Intersectionality   Human rights   History