Sexual assault is a serious crime and widespread problem, with more than half of Native American women (56 percent) experiencing sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Sexual violence impacts all genders and demographics, but disproportionately affects Native women who already face unique challenges and barriers to accessing support services, medical care and justice.
For those who have survived sexual violence, what has happened cannot be undone or truly forgotten. But taking the journey one step at a time, and with the support they deserve, survivors can find healing, become stronger, and feel safe once again. Together we can help Native survivors reclaim their bodies, their lives and safety in their communities, so all of our relatives are safe, all the time and in all circumstances.
Throughout the year and in April in particular for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, NIWRC lifts the incredible efforts by tribes, tribal domestic violence and sexual violence programs, advocates, rape crisis centers, agencies, campuses, states and advocacy organizations to honor survivors of sexual violence and bring sexual assault awareness and prevention to the forefront. Learn more about the impact of sexual violence in Indian Country and help advocate for change.
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 are types of rape rooted in power and control, a way for perpetrators to instill fear into victims.
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.
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.
The first Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) was observed in 2001, twenty years ago, though individuals have long called for sexual assault prevention beginning as early as the 1940s and 50s with the movements for social change and equality during the civil rights era. The rise in awareness around sexual assault continued through the 1970s women’s movement, ushering in a new era of support for survivors of violence. For decades, Indigenous advocates, often survivors themselves, have challenged systemic barriers, policies and laws permitting sexual violence to make our communities safer.
While many reforms have been achieved since the first SAAM was recognized, most reforms have not reached Indian Country and Native Hawaiians. A primary focus of awareness and reform to sexual violence has rested on the criminal justice system with only minimal success given that the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to prosecute in 64% of cases of sexual assault across all tribal reservations between 2013-2018. What is necessary to change this lack of response, according to tribal leaders and the movement of safety for Native women, is the recognition and support for Indigenous responses based in tribal cultures, communities and government.
Template - Sexual Assault Awareness Month proclamation
Tool: Equality Wheel
Bumper Sticker: Sexual Violence is Not Our Tradition
StrongHearts Native Helpline: Domestic, dating and sexual violence helpline for American Indians and Alaska Natives (1-844-762-8483), anonymous and confidential