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Sexual Assault Awareness Month

SAAM Spotlight: Sexual Assault among Indigenous Communities

Throughout history, people have faced oppression in multiple forms. People of color, and more specifically women of color, have dealt with sexual assault at a higher rate than others. Today I want to talk about women with Indigenous backgrounds and their experiences with sexual assault and the legal system.

To start, here is a bit of background information on Native American history. At the beginning of European colonization, Native tribes were forced off of their lands and given unfair trades without a full, clear explanation of those trades. Large bursts of European immigrants arrived in the 1400s and again in the 1600s. Meanwhile, Spaniards were colonizing Mexico and South American land. Often times the Native people were forced to leave, either with threats or violence. They continued to be massacred and enslaved while immigrants took over the land (Mark, 2020). In a different stage of history, many Indigenous people were forced into American boarding schools to assimilate to EuroAmerican culture. In more recent years, mascots have started to be rebranded from depictions of Native Americans to other logos. The original goal was to eradicate Native American culture so there would be no threat or competition. Ultimately, this attempt by the government failed. 

Poverty is widespread throughout Native American communities. “In 2017, more than 90% of Lakota residents on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation—the second largest Native reservation in South Dakota, run by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council—were living below the federal poverty level” (Bruce, 2019). Initially, in the 1800s, the government had a ‘welfare’ program, but it was not welfare. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) did not include tribe members in decisions and held a lot of control over these Native communities. Over time, the plan was to eradicate and assimilate these ‘foreign’ cultures. 

There is a highway in Canada called ‘The Highway of Tears’. Many women, especially Native American women, go missing along this road. Hitchhiking is quite common because there is a lack of resources. That hitchhiking can lead to terrible things, but for some, it is the only way to get to where they need to be. One article explained the language found on billboards. The billboards depict Native American women and have phrases that go against the idea of hitchhiking. However, many of these people do not have a choice. 

There are also staggering statistics that show people of Indigenous origin are assaulted at higher rates than others. For example, 4 out of 5 Alaskan Indigenous have experienced violence, and 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence (Clairmont, 2021). While statistics are always changing and sexual assault is an underreported issue, it shows how big of a problem it is in Native communities. 

Another aspect to consider is how the laws differ between reservations and the United States. According to RAINN, “Non-indigenous perpetrators cannot be prosecuted for rape by tribal courts for crimes committed on tribal land and against indigenous people”. Someone who is assaulted on a Native American reservation by someone from a State will have a long, difficult journey in court- if they get that journey at all. In turn, this can prevent people from reporting if they feel nothing will be done. “By their own account, between 2005 and 2009, U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute 67% of the Indian country matters referred to them involving sexual abuse and related matters” (Indian Law, 2021). This goes to show how much work must be done to bring more awareness to sexual assault cases. Rather than focusing on the struggles of Indigenous people, we can work on bringing social justice and support.

How can we support these communities? Several organizations work with Native American and Indigenous populations in the United States and on reservations and independent creators linked below! It is important that we support Native American businesses and advocate, as well as educating ourselves. See our other blog post about Elizabeth Peratrovich, who made waves in the political system for Indigenous rights. 

How to Support

Organizations:

National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center

First Nations Women’s Alliance

Businesses:

She Native

Trickster Company

Bedre Chocolates

 

References

Bruce, A. (2019). When Your Colonizers Are Hypocrites: Federal Poverty “Solutions” and Indigenous Survival of Sex Trafficking in Indian Country. National Lawyers Guild Review, 76(3), 140–182.

CBS News. (2016). Highway of Tears. https://www.cbsnews.com/video/highway-of-tears-3/

Clairmont, B. (2021, accessed). Culturally Appropriate Responses for Native American Victims of Sexual Assaulthttp://www.tribal-institute.org/download/NativeVictimsSexualAssault.pdf

Daily Motion. (2015). Highway of Tears: Documentary on the Unsolved Murders on Highway 16. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2h7la5.

Indian Law Resource Center. (2021, accessed). Ending Violence Against Native Women.  https://indianlaw.org/issue/ending-violence-against-native-women

Mark, J. (2020). European Colonization of the Americas. https://www.ancient.eu/European_Colonization_of_the_Americas/

Morton, K. (2016). Hitchhiking and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: A critical discourse analysis of billboards on the Highway of tears. The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers canadiens de sociologie. Vol. 41, No. 3, Special Issue: Canadian Mobilities/Contentious Mobilities (2016), pp. 299-326.

 


Written by Olivia Stueben, Outreach Intern

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Awareness Raising of Vulnerable Communities

On March 16th, 2021, there was a mass shooting in Atlanta. Eight people were killed and of those, six were Asian women. Soon after this event the media and the public spoke louder about fears of Asian hate crimes, racial injustice, and more. As an Asian woman, this news struck close to my heart. There was definite anger and bitterness stemming from fear and horror. 

For more information about the event, see this NY Times article.  

I find myself wrestling with questions like “How do we fight this hate? How do we protect people against hate?” These questions swirl through my mind with a feeling of wanting to do something about the helplessness that seems just around the corner. After such ponderings for an answer, I am often brought to a place of wondering what is within my realm of influence for myself and those around me. What can I do for those around me to protect them and provide safety? How do I advocate for those who are in such vulnerable positions? I find myself wanting to provide a safe space to process their thoughts, emotions, and personal stories. I find myself wanting to build a community. In Korea, there is this saying that if we share our joy, it doubles and if we share our sorrows they are halved. 

When the topic of race and racial injustice is usually brought up in social gatherings, it often seems to create an awkward silence, division, frustration, confusion, and discomfort. It is difficult to feel safe and become vulnerable about the topic of race and racial injustice freely and openly. This difficulty leads people to avoid engaging which creates further assumptions and division. It is a cyclical pattern that keeps us stagnant and stuck. In the end, such deepening assumptions and division only inspire further isolation and increase risk of vulnerability to the minorities. 

Yet people need a safe space to talk about hard topics like this. The politeness given to one another to avoid conflict or the angry outbursts have only led to further divide, prejudice, and misconceptions. In order for us to create a safe space for one another, we need to not assume our own cultural perspective as “the correct one,” but to increase self-awareness of one’s own beliefs and values and to hold an attitude of humility towards the other. 

The attitude of humility starts not with exclamation points (assumptions and judgment) but with question marks (curiosity and compassion). The hope of cultural humility is to help people feel safer to talk about differences and accept differences. Different cultures are not lesser, wrong, or weird. They are just different. Let us all have an approach of question marks to ourselves (bias and assumptions) and question marks to others (curiosity and compassion) to create a safer space for difficult topics and difficult times. Let us create shelter for one another and for the vulnerable communities.

For more information on communities who are more vulnerable and at the highest risk for sexual violence, see Rainn.org. For more information on risk factors for sexual violence, see CDC.gov.


Written by Gloria Lee, Counselor

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Meet Our Teams

This week, in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), we highlight the amazing work of our teams at ZCenter. Each team plays a crucial role in supporting survivors and ending sexual violence.


Counseling 

Saira Khan, Clinical Supervisor

ZCenter’s mission is to validate, believe and empower all survivors of sexual violence. We believe healing from sexual trauma is possible. Our trained counselors create a safe space for our clients, where they can share their experience, build resiliency, and regain control over their lives. ZCenter offers free counseling in Lake County and Northern Cook County.

 

 

 


Outreach & Advocacy

Every single day, every 73 seconds, an American is subjected to sexual violence. Part of our mission is to work with those that have been violated, but the role of the Outreach and Advocacy Team is to promote awareness and educate the community around sexual health, safety, and rights. Through prevention education, professional development, volunteerism, and social justice 

Christine Berry, Director of Services

activism, the Outreach Team reaches thousands of people annually to spread information and awareness. During this difficult time, ZCenter’s community outreach has evolved to include a broad digital presence, beginning a podcast (73 Seconds) and a blog, showcasing how important it is to end sexual violence and dismantle the systems responsible for sustaining it. 

 

 


Development

Development means different things in various industries. For ZCenter, it means fundraising. But more than that it means bringing awareness to all of the needs at 

Anna Lehner, Director of Development

ZCenter, to ensure we have the financial resources available to keep our services strong, necessary supplies, and support for our growing Outreach Programs. Fundraising comes from corporate donations, individual contributions, monthly giving (check out our Superhero Campaign!), and foundations through grant applications. 

 

 

 


Administration

Hi, my name is JoEllen and I am part of the Amazing Administration Team at ZCenter! Our team plays an important behind the scenes role in contributing to the comprehensive services provided to survivors of sexual violence by the ZCenter Staff, Interns and Volunteers.

JoEllen Erdman, Compliance Manager

Office management, budget and finance, data entry and stats management, government reporting and compliance, payroll and record keeping are all successfully orchestrated by the team of Helen Williamson-Administrative Specialist, Jessica Gonzalez-Financial & Facilities Assistant, JoEllen Erdman-Compliance Manager, and our fearless leader, Cindy Harris-Director of Administration. We take great pride in making sure that the office runs smoothly and the employees get paid so they can put all of their energies into providing the best trauma-informed care to the survivors we work with every day!

 


All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Staff Picks: Books and Films

 Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm.

-Ceridwen Dovey

Can Reading Make You Happier? 

 

With titles that support survivors like Maximize Your Super Powers, Nothing Is Louder than Silence, Living for Today, and Find Your Voice, it’s hard to believe that reading is anything but empowering. Why are books critical for survivors? What do they bring to those seeking a secret formula about how and why we’re feeling the way we do? 

Books allow us to see ourselves in stories, normalize our feelings, and not feel alone. We resonate with characters and appreciate the stories that show hope and healing. We receive insight into moving forward or hearing that being stuck right where we are is okay. Books can be a portal to connection with others, sharing their suffering as well as joys. These stories and poems help us experience multiple realities and give language to thoughts and feelings some of us cannot put into words. Books like Grief Day by Day can expand our understanding; it can feel as though someone is walking hand in hand with us as the book taps into the hidden places where we may not want to look.

Reading makes us laugh, get angry, or cry. It is a personal and visceral experience and it can be incredibly uncomfortable to see yourself in black and white, for everyone to see. At the same time, books dare us to grow and help guide and solidify the goals we have around healing and who we want to be. Books remind us that words like transcending, allies, and courage need to be part of our lexicon; these are powerful terms that we aspire to have and to emulate. Reading also can reduce stress, be soothing, and cause one’s mind to shift gears to a positive or more open state. Let’s be patient with ourselves as we move through pages and remember the books were not written about us but for us. Soak it all in and remember wherever you are on your journey; you deserve this healing process, however that may look for you.

Some people who have experienced sexual assault and abuse have found ways to collect their memories and compile these soul-searching experiences, so others can benefit from their strength and courage. They’re willing to allow others to actually see their story in black and white. We appreciate them and their courage. Although we can highlight some of those books here, maybe it’s not only about the books themselves, but the importance they play as life preservers, an escape from where we are, and finding the truth, your truth.  – Wendy Ivy, Associate Executive Director

 

Staff Picks

  • Christine Berry, Director of Services, suggests Mean by Myriam Gurba. The reason this book is so important is because it highlights how intersectionality plays a role in trauma. In addition, it really shows how added trauma negatively impacts those who are already marginalized. 
  • Anna Lehner, Director of Development, recommends watching Allen v. Farrow, on HBO. This documentary highlights some of the systems, wealth, Hollywood culture, and misogyny, that often protect perpetrators and influence the public views on sexual violence. 
  • Kristin Jones, our Outreach Supervisor, urges viewers to watch the documentary Rewind, directed by Sasha Neulinger. Viewers learn about how a survivor of childhood sexual abuse continues to move forward in the healing journey and how he started a Child Advocacy Center that sparked a movement of more centers like it opening nationwide.
  • Sarah Brennan, our Activism and Volunteer Coordinator, suggests reading Chanel Miller’s Know My Name. Chanel shares her journey to healing and uses her voice to take back ownership of her body and of the narrative. Readers learn more about the process of medical advocacy, the legal process, and what survivors can expect emotionally when going through similar situations. 
  • Haley Olson, a ZCenter BSW Intern, recommends the documentary The Hunting Ground, directed by Kirby Dick. Viewers of this documentary learn about the high prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses by following survivors’ stories and recoveries as they chase justice. The film also deep dives into the academic bureaucracy that seems to prioritize protecting institutions over working towards justice.

 


 

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Legislation and Sexual Assault

Legislation can be a heavy topic and one that is often difficult to understand. If we take a look into the etymology of the word, we can get a better idea of what the purpose of legislation really is. One of the original meanings of the word law comes from Old Norse and means “things layed out or fixed.” With this meaning, we see that one of the purposes of legislation is to provide guidelines or rules, ones that are fixed and layed out for us to better understand and refer to when needed. In the U.S., we have the power to take part in determining those guidelines and rules through our representatives and senators. We can encourage them to make the changes that are most important to us. To start off Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we take a look at three examples of proposed legislation that will protect and expand the basic rights of sexual assault survivors.  We also explore ways that you can take action and make sure these rights are put into practice.

Upcoming bills and their importance 

HB 3265: This bill would guarantee confidentiality to any survivor seeking services at a rape crisis center. This confidentiality would be guaranteed, regardless of whether the center provides only sexual assault services or also provides services like domestic violence as well.

This bill may seem like legislators are splitting hairs; however, in 2020, a defendant argued that a survivor was not protected by confidentiality because the center where she received services provided both sexual assault and domestic violence services. He argued that the definition of a rape crisis center states that its “sole purpose is to provide sexual assault services” and because the center where the survivor sought services also provided domestic violence services, she did not qualify for confidentiality. Survivors should always feel comfortable and safe seeking services for their healing and be guaranteed confidentiality, regardless of the scope of services that an organization offers. 

HB 63: This bill proposes that the Department of Public Health develop specialized clinics throughout the state to provide affordable healthcare services to women. Some of these services would include annual examinations, postnatal care, and services for STIs. 

We know that many survivors of sexual assault are women. It is crucial and a basic human right  for them not only to be able to have services available, but services that are also affordable. The impact of sexual assault goes beyond a single act of violence; it lasts a lifetime. Because of this, there is a need for health services throughout the entire life of the survivor. 

HB 1736: The Reach Act is a current bill that would enhance education prevention programs throughout Illinois. You might be familiar with Erin’s Law, a law that Illinois passed in 2011. This law mandates that students from preschool through high school receive relevant curricula that would help with the prevention of sexual abuse.

The passing of Erin’s Law has been an incredible start to prioritizing this type of education for students. However, The Reach Act expands on Erin’s Law, improving the AIDS training section of School Code, adding more inclusion of diverse gender identities, and prohibiting the use of gender stereotypes, just to name some of the amendments. 

 

Looking for ways to take action?

As advocates, we always support survivors as best we can; but without creating change in our laws and policies, we cannot give them the justice that they truly need. We know that it takes time for change to happen and that results do not often come quickly. This is why it is important that more people join the fight for survivors’ rights. The more people that support these bills, the more representation there will be, and the sooner we will see the results that bring even more hope for survivors.

If you are interested in contacting your local senators or representatives to support any of the new legislation listed above, please use this link to find your local representative, their contact information and district, and the state district map. 

ICASA (Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault) works tirelessly to ensure bills are written, to advocate that laws are passed to support survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and to remove barriers to services. The ICASA website provides a comprehensive resource of these laws that protect and support survivors. An example of some of these laws are: 

  • Crime Victims’ Rights 
  • Statute of Limitations 
  • SASETA (Sexual Assault Survivors Emergency Treatment Act) rights involving emergency medical care and treatment at no cost
  • Civil No Contact Orders 
  • Crime Victim Compensation Program

ICASA’s website, found here, will also provide the most updated legislative initiatives each year so you can participate locally with your representatives on behalf of survivors. 

Join us all month as we participate in Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) with weekly blog posts, daily posts on our social media, and two new podcast episodes. We can end sexual violence. You can help us.


Written by Wendy Ivy, Associate Executive Director, and Evelyn Bello, Advocacy Services Coordinator

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

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