Lori Jump (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), Assistant Director of the StrongHearts Native Helpline
Domestic violence isn’t always an easy topic to discuss, but we see the signs of abuse all around us. It affects our sisters, mothers, aunties, nieces, cousins, youth and elders, and can range from physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, cultural abuse, or digital abuse, or any combination of these.
At the StrongHearts Native Helpline, we often hear callers reporting more than one type of abuse occurring in their relationships. Since March 2017, our helpline (1-844-7NATIVE) has received more than 900 calls to date with no signs of slowing down. It’s no secret that Native Americans experience violence and abuse at higher rates than other groups. That’s where the StrongHearts Native Helpline comes in, serving Native victims of domestic violence and dating violence across Indian Country and Alaska.
StrongHearts, created by and for Native Americans, launched as the first national helpline tailored specifically to support Native American survivors and concerned family members, and friends affected by domestic violence and dating violence. Through the helpline—available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST—advocates offer free peer-to-peer support and resources in a safe, confidential, and healing environment. Callers reaching out after hours can connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or are encouraged to call StrongHearts back the next business day.
What some people don’t realize is that abuse can affect anyone from all walks of life. It is not limited to a specific age, class, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Abuse happens in relationships where couples are married, living together, or dating, and violent behavior can appear at any time in a relationship.
Domestic violence and dating violence occur when an abusive partner uses a repetitive pattern of behaviors to maintain power over their partner and control their actions. These behaviors can physically harm, instill fear, prevent a person from acting freely, or force them to behave in ways they do not want.
Consider the statistics about Indian Country, which are shocking: According to a recent study by the National Institute of Justice, more than 4 in 5 Native women and men have experienced violence in their lifetime, and more than 1 in 3 Native people have experienced violence within the past year. Of those who had experienced violence, more than 1 in 3 Native women and more than 1 in 6 Native men were unable to access the supportive services they needed. Yes, Native men are also victims of domestic violence. One-third of Native men report being physically abused by an intimate partner.
The report goes on to highlight the extreme rates of violence perpetrated against Native Americans across the board, where our relatives are twice as likely to experience rape or sexual assault and are five times more likely to be victims of homicide in their lifetime when compared to other groups in the U.S.
At StrongHearts, we know some people might feel uncomfortable when the subject of domestic violence or abuse comes up. We know in our small, tight-knit communities that speaking up isn’t always easy, because speaking out might mean getting a loved one in trouble, challenging a powerful family, or victim blaming and shaming. Being in an abusive relationship can be lonely, a place where silence feels safe, but I’m here to tell you: It’s okay to speak out. You are not alone.
Native survivors of abuse continue to experience barriers to justice and safety that non-Native survivors do not face. Resources are scarce, and in some areas culturally appropriate resources are practically non-existent. Issues of tribal jurisdiction, gaps in culturally appropriate resources, the lack of availability of law enforcement, as well as the availability of emergency shelters and rape crisis services present blockades for Native women on their path to support, healing, and safety.
The StrongHearts Native Helpline helps to address these inadequacies in whatever way we can. In our first year of operation, we have been able to capture empirically what the field has known anecdotally for years: The response to gender-based violence in Indian country and Alaska is woefully inadequate. At StrongHearts, we know that culture is at the core of any appropriate response to violence. Yet, culturally responsive or tribally rooted victim services are rare and do not rise to meet the severe rates of violence in our lives.
The number of callers reaching out to StrongHearts clearly demonstrates the need for safe, confidential, and culturally rooted resources for our Native people.
Every day is a step forward in the work to support Native survivors of abuse. Advocating for our callers is at the heart of what we do. Our goal at StrongHearts is to do whatever we can to weave together a support network for our relatives in a way that promotes safety and healing, and above all maintains the sovereignty and dignity of our people.
We have connected with so many of our relatives who have shared their stories and have told us how much the StrongHearts Native Helpline is needed, and how much our peer-to-peer advocacy has helped them. Our services are free for callers, and all calls are confidential and anonymous.
So, whether you’re experiencing domestic violence or dating violence, or if you’re a concerned friend or family member, you can be assured that StrongHearts is a safe place to call—with an advocate who understands you and where you come from—from the very beginning.
The StrongHearts Native Helpline toll-free phone number is 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483). As a national helpline, our hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST. Callers after hours may connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call back the next business day. Visit strongheartshelpline.org for information about what abuse looks like, abuse red flags, and how to support your loved one in an abusive relationship. StrongHearts is also on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
It’s important to remember when it comes to our people that violence and abuse are not Native traditions, and neither is ever okay. Healing begins in our communities when we share our stories—this is truly at the heart of what the StrongHearts Native Helpline is all about. To all Native survivors out there, we hear you—we hear your stories. Your story matters.