Sexual assault, abuse, and harassment can happen to anyone. Yet in Indigenous communities in the United States, more than half of American Indian and Alaska Native women (56.1 percent) have experienced sexual violence in their lives and the vast majority (96 percent) are victimized by a non-Native perpetrator. Far too often, the experiences and voices of Native survivors of violence are ignored and disregarded, leaving many of our relatives without access to medical care, justice, supportive services, and healing. Sexual assault and rape are intertwined with colonization in the United States and are tools of colonization that continue to this day.
Each April, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, StrongHearts Native Helpline, and Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) by raising awareness of sexual assault and standing in support of survivors of sexual violence. As advocates in the national movement to increase safety for Native women, it is crucial that we spotlight this long-standing connection between sexual violence toward women and colonization, which is largely ignored by the public. The same government infrastructure—federal laws, policies, and institutions—targeting and permitting sexual assault, abuse and harassment of Native women in the 1800s continues to exist in 2021. To remove these structural inequalities requires a shift in understanding and advancing changes to end sexual violence.
Together, standing as relatives, we are saying: No more. Sexual violence is not traditional. Take action. Protect the sacred.
Together, standing as relatives, we can help Indigenous survivors reclaim their bodies, their lives and safety in their communities, so all survivors are safe, all the time, in all circumstances.
Throughout the year, we celebrate the strengths and leadership of survivors and the incredible efforts of advocates, Indigenous nations, tribal domestic violence and sexual violence programs, rape crisis centers, agencies, campuses, states and advocacy organizations that bring sexual assault awareness to the forefront and take action to end sexual violence. Sexual assault, rape and violence are not traditional. Our Indigenous communities view these attacks as not only perpetrated against the victim, but against their family and entire community and nation. Traditionally there are no words for sexual violence in our Native languages because these crimes were extremely rare. Our cultures are centered around the value of respect and the sacredness of women and children. We call on everyone to stand as relatives with survivors of sexual violence.
In 2021, it is important to continue to reach beyond individual acts of violence and direct our efforts to raising awareness of social permissions that uphold the system that allows sexual violence to happen generation after generation. For decades, Indigenous advocates, often survivors themselves, have challenged systemic barriers, policies and laws permitting such abuse to make our communities safer. It is time to renew our efforts to end sexual violence. Join us in standing with our relatives, Indigenous survivors, and advocates to reclaim our indigenous values and lifeways that uphold honor and respect for women, children and all our relatives. During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we stand as relatives to honor survivors of sexual violence and advocates committed to ending sexual assault.
Below you will find more information about Sexual Assault Awareness Month and advocacy resources on sexual assault to get involved.
What is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is a serious violent crime and widespread, impacting Native women at disproportionate rates. While all genders experience sexual violence, and it is important not to minimize their experiences, the vast majority of victims of sexual assault are women.
Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact that you do not consent to. It may occur within an intimate relationship as a tactic of domestic violence. Sexual assault is a type of sexual violence and is rooted in power and control, a way for perpetrators to instill fear into victims. Forced sexual acts cause great trauma and harm people physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.
Types of Sexual Assault:
- Harassing or calling you degrading sexual names
- Fondling, grabbing or pinching the sexual parts of your body
- Constantly pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to have sex
- Forcing you to have sex or engage in unwanted sexual activity (ex. rape, anal rape, forced masturbation or forced oral sex)
- Drugging so you are unable to consent to sexual activity
- Using weapons or other objects to hurt the sexual parts of your body
The trauma of a sexual attack on one’s spirit and wellbeing can last a lifetime, particularly if safety, support and culturally based resources for healing aren't accessible and which we know aren’t always readily available in tribal and Native communities. For relatives who are hurting, StrongHearts Native Helpline provides peer support and a connection to services as a nationally available domestic, dating and sexual violence helpline designed by and for Native people.
Survivors often do not report sexual assault or seek help out of shame, embarrassment, or fear of retaliation by the person who assaulted them, and because reporting too often does not result in investigations, prosecution or convictions. Additionally, Native survivors can experience jurisdictional hurdles when they report a crime, and reporting oftentimes does not result in investigations, prosecution or convictions.
It is extremely important to be clear that rape and sexual assault are never the victim’s fault. Together, standing as relatives, we must send a strong message that we will not tolerate sexual violence in tribal and Native communities and proactively work to hold perpetrators and systems accountable. Supporting Indigenous survivors of sexual assault is central to ending violence in our communities.
- Register for NIWRC webinar, Creating a Circle of Safety, on April 14, at 1 p.m. MT.
- Inspire action in your community with proclamation for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
- Download sexual violence against women and children in Indian Country fact sheet.
- Contact StrongHearts Native Helpline (1-844-762-8483, strongheartshelpline.org) if you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted or abused.
- Read a personal survivor’s story on strongheartshelpline.org on April 23.
- Listen to new Speaking Our Truth podcasts featuring StrongHearts Native Helpline and Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center on sexual violence advocacy.
- Read and share Restoration magazine articles:
- April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month by Jacqueline Agtuca
- Healing is Possible by Elsie Boudreau
- Advocacy for Sexual Assault Survivors During COVID-19 by Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition
- Stand Against Injustice for Sexual Assault Survivors by Michelle Dauphinais Echols
- Follow and share from NIWRC, AKNWRC’s and StrongHearts’ social media pages throughout April.
About the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center:
The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Inc. (NIWRC) is a Native-led nonprofit organization dedicated to ending violence against Native women and children. NIWRC provides national leadership in ending gender-based violence in tribal communities by lifting up the collective voices of grassroots advocates and offering culturally grounded resources, technical assistance and training, and policy development to strengthen tribal sovereignty. niwrc.org
About StrongHearts Native Helpline:
StrongHearts Native Helpline was created by and built to serve Tribal communities across the United States. It is a culturally-appropriate, anonymous, confidential and free service dedicated to serving Native American and Alaska Native survivors, concerned family members and friends affected by domestic, dating and sexual violence. Dial 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) or click on the chat now icon at strongheartshelpline.org 24/7. Connect with knowledgeable advocates who can provide lifesaving tools and immediate support to enable survivors to find safety and live lives free of abuse. StrongHearts Native Helpline is a project of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Learn more at strongheartshelpline.org.
About the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center:
Organized in 2015, the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center (AKNWRC) is a tribal nonprofit organization dedicated to ending violence against women with Alaska’s 229 tribes and allied organizations. AKNWRC board members and staff are Alaska Native women raised in Alaska Native Villages and have over 250 years of combined experience in tribal governments, nonprofit management, domestic violence, and sexual assault advocacy (both individual crisis and systems and grassroots social change advocacy at the local, statewide, regional, national and international levels), and other social services experience. AKNWRC’s philosophy is that violence against women is rooted in the colonization of indigenous nations and thus dedicated to strengthening local, tribal government’s responses through community organizing efforts advocating for the safety of women and children in their communities and homes against domestic and sexual abuse and violence. aknwrc.org