It was an honor to be part of Sisters in Solidarity: Working to End Violence Against Indigenous Women.
This was my first time speaking publicly, as a survivor. I'm certain my voice shook, but I managed to make it through with no tears.
Since that night I've heard from numerous people, about how the event affected them. So, I've decided to post my speech from that night, "I Am 1 in 3", because awareness is so important. My hope is that my steps forward will empower other survivors to speak out, as well, even if your voice shakes.
I Am 1 In 3
It has been said that violence often occurs as a gauntlet in the lives of Native women: at one end, verbal abuse, and at the other, murder; with many of us experiencing more than one of the indignities that lies between. Most Native women don’t report such crimes because, quite frankly, it has been unlikely that much will be done about it.I am 1 in 3.3 weeks after my 14th birthday, I was raped by a young man, who was a few years older. He had been a small time dope slinger, who had formulated a plan to move up in the game; but that required moving girls, along with the drugs. During the protracted period of time he spent committing horrific acts of soul crushing violence against me, he bragged to me about his plan for turning women and young girls into merchandise. This was my first introduction to the concept of human trafficking.
When word came that the police had been tipped off as to where I was being hidden, his family rushed to hide and destroy all evidence, while his brother moved me from the location. I went willingly, because anything was better than another moment in that house of horrors.
The next day we were located, at which time I overheard police officers discussing the situation—referring to me as “a spoiled little slut looking for attention”, who then sent me to speak to a juvenile officer who was determined to scare me straight but threatening to show me this “files full of photos that show what happens to ‘girls like me’”. This was my introduction to secondary victimization by law enforcement. Needless to say, I declined to file a report.
This didn’t come at no cost to me, of course, as it also led to my becoming one of the 17% of Native women who have been stalked, in their lifetime.
A year or so later, I attended a high school party, when an adult male showed up. I never found out if he had been invited or had crashed the party, but what was I worried about? “He was a good guy.” “He was in the Army, how bad could he be, after all?” Ultimately I would concede to my friends’ arguments, and he would wait around until everyone else, including my date, was gone, when I was too immobilized to fight back, to rape me. After which, the family who hosted the house party quickly turned on me.
They couldn’t have people saying this happened at their home, they said. So, if I told, they would say that it was consensual, that it was my idea, that I initiated sex & was just lying for attention. They had nothing to worry about.
I already had experienced law enforcement as a survivor, and I had no inclination for a repeat performance. I had just wanted to hang out with friends, that night, instead I became one of the almost 1/2 of Native rape survivors who are assaulted by strangers, as contrasted with victims from all racial groups, where approx. 80% know their assailants; as well as the estimated 70% of Native rape survivors who have been victimized by perpetrators of another race—a substantially higher rate of interracial violence than experienced by other groups.
According to Amnesty International “violence against women is one of the most pervasive human rights abuses. It is also one of the most hidden. It takes place in intimate relationships, within the family and at the hands of strangers and it affects women in every country in the world…. Indigenous peoples in the USA face deeply entrenched marginalization – the result of a long history of systemic and pervasive abuse and persecution. Sexual violence against Indigenous women today is informed and conditioned by this legacy of widespread and egregious human rights abuses.” None of us can take for granted that we are exempt or immune.
Even after spending years helping others and advocating against violence and sexual assault, I still found myself living with an abuser. He was never physically violent, as he learned from his previous marriage that psychological and sexual abuse are far more effective means of control, which others are less likely to recognize or attempt to intervene against. Given my experience in the field, I recognized the red flags, once the mask came off…but I was already pregnant & financially dependent, due to circumstances beyond my control, that getting out seemed impossible. My children had never witnessed any of his abusive behaviors, so I chose to suffer in silence, while trying to create an escape plan.
However, once I uncovered evidence that he fantasized about & searched out porn of men who looked like him raping girls that look like my daughter, I decided the possibility of homelessness & possibly having to live separately from my children was worth it to protect her from becoming 1 in 3, herself. Those are two options, no one should ever have to choose between. But that is often the case for those in abusive situations, so keep that in mind next time you or someone around you asks “why does she stay?”
What I want you to take from my stories is that these horrific crimes are not isolated events or anomalies. 1 in 3 is not an occasional occurrence. These things are happening in your city. In your neighborhood. In your churches. In your families. Every day. And no one is immune.
I experienced an interesting phenomenon, when I began preparing to speak, tonight. I sent out an informal poll to various people about what topics they would like to see me cover. Those who are advocates in this field had many helpful suggestions. Those who are community members, who had expressed interest & voiced support, all gave the same response: call legislators & ask them what to do. In effect, make it someone else’s problem because, I was told, it’s not happening in their home so they didn’t seem to feel a responsibility for finding a solution. This apathy kills.
1 in 3 is symptomatic of a society that doesn’t see Native women as people. The lack of outrage when 3 out of 5 Native women will experience physical violence suggests that we are invisible. When thousands of Indigenous women across the US & Canada are murdered or vanish, yet no government finds it significant enough to launch a concerted inquiry, it shows that our very existence is devalued in the eyes of the broader population.
There is a culture of violence that is, too often, being played out on the bodies of our Native women. And the solutions must be as complex and comprehensive as the contributing factors.
First and foremost, we have to stop waiting for others to find a solution. We can’t sit back and wait for our policy makers to formulate a plan. You can be part of a solution or part of the problem, but you have to make a choice. There isn’t a spectator section in life, where you can sit on the sidelines, with no responsibility, and just wait to see what happens.
Find ways, every day, to dismantle rape culture. Call that co-worker out on their misogynistic joke or that street harasser.
Counter hypersexualization and objectification of Native women. When your niece wants to wear that Pocahottie costume from Halloween, tell her about the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women. Tell her about the 1 in 3. Tell her about me. Tell her about the dozens of survivors that I’ve known over the years, who have been lost to suicide because the pain became too much.
Don’t make excuses for family members who abuse. Don’t turn a blind eye, when you suspect something is happening, shrugging it off as a personal matter. Offer help to their victims. Offer to help perpetrators find help, themselves, if the opportunity presents.
Hold your communities accountable. Teach non-violence and consent, at home. Insist that your local schools have very clear consent instruction. After all their code of conduct is based on the premise. We cannot expect to hold children accountable for ideas that they may not have been taught.
Find ways, as individuals, congregations, and community groups to start initiatives to not only help survivors, but to educate yourselves and others about these issues. Start community outreaches to educate the public. Perhaps expand that to initiatives to support survivors, or to help offenders get treatment. Find & create ways to promote respectful, nonviolent relationships through individual, relationship, community, and societal level change.
Because these issues are complex. Yes, we need policy changes. After all, our Nations have just, this year, been allowed to prosecute non-Natives for abusing our women on tribal land. And that jurisdiction is now already in jeopardy because of the Dollar General case, that is going before the Supreme Court. If you don’t know what case I’m referring to, this is where you can start in your journey of self-education, by Googling that case & the tremendous potential for fallout.
There are promising programs for preventing abuse by providing trauma based treatment for offenders. We need to lobby our tribal leaders to make this part of their social services. We need to support domestic violence shelters & create more social service programs, even if it means forming our own orgs & writing grants ourselves.
As a social worker, I can tell you that many of the community resources that exist, are out there because someone saw a need and sought out a way to meet it. These things don’t just happen because someone has spare time & decides to tackle a random social problem, on a whim. They happen because individuals recognize their personal responsibility for helping their fellow humans, and they take initiative to do something about it.
I want to challenge every person who hears my words: look for ways, every single day, to take a stand & to make a difference. You never know who’s life you may change, or save.
[Editors note: This speech was originally published, here, on the blog, and was republished by Native Max Magazine. My original post was later removed due to threats by an individual mentioned herein. To be clear, he never denied any of the allegations, only that he didn't want them public. Now that court proceedings, resulting from that backlash, have resolved, I am making the post public, once again, because the words seemed to help so many.]