April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. There is a broad spectrum of studies and statistics that attempt to explain why even today sexual assault continues to be a threat to society, not just to women, but to all people. In looking at the issue, every gender, every race and at every age, the threat of sexual violence exists every minute of every day.
Around the world, Indigenous peoples have been and still are being victimized by predominant civilizations. Beginning with colonization, Native Americans and Alaska Natives suffered at the hands of non-Natives and rape was frequently used as a tool of colonization and oppression. The impacts of colonization, and specifically rape still impact Native communities to this day.
Nationwide, an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds and every nine minutes that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only five out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). That means 995 out of 1,000 perpetrators are free to assault again. For Native Americans, the picture is even bleaker.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, American Indians and Crime (1992-2002, 2004):
- Native Americans and Alaska Natives are twice as likely to experience a rape/sexual assault compared to all races.
- 41 percent of sexual assaults against American Indians are committed by a stranger; 34 percent by an acquaintance; and 25% by an intimate or family member.
Beyond those statistics remain the innumerable victims who do not report or cannot report sexual assault for any variety of reasons. One of the more common reasons a victim may not report an assault is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The Effects of Sexual Assault
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious psychological disease suffered by millions of people who have been exposed to extreme stress, violence or loss. PTSD can cause many trauma responses, from rendering a victim mute to living in a heightened state of panic. However, unless and until the survivor can speak about the assault, silence itself serves to protect the perpetrator.
Possible Feelings and Reactions
After a sexual assault has occurred, the victim can experience a multitude of debilitating emotions, including: fear, guilty feelings, embarrassment, shame, shock and depression. Processing trauma is never easy, but putting labels on the emotions can help put things into perspective.
Consent is expressed when one person voluntarily agrees to the proposal of another. It is best to know that consent is legally required at every stage of sexual activity.
Sexual assault is pervasive in every corner of the world. It is very important to remember that the perpetrator is at fault, not the victim. It will take time and effort for a victim of sexual assault to heal and to move forward, but it can be done. It must be done. There are so many people that not only need help but who want to help. For the victim, the helper and/or a concerned family or friend, help is available.
A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) is a nurse specifically trained to conduct a forensic exam to include evaluation and collection of evidence. They are sensitive to survivors of sexual assault and use their expertise to provide effective courtroom testimony.
Sexual assault service providers may also be accessed through the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. You can also reach RAINN by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE) or visit their website at online.rainn.org
StrongHearts Can Help
Help is available for victims of sexual assault. StrongHearts Native Helpline advocates are trained to take a Native-centered, empowerment-based approach to every call and offer peer-to-peer support, crisis intervention, assistance with safety planning, referrals to local resources and education and information. Services are completely free, anonymous and confidential.
To explore your options for safety and healing, call StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. MDT. Callers reaching out after hours may connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) by selecting option one.