As uncomfortable as it is to acknowledge, we must all work towards ending domestic violence inside our communities before we can effectively unify to combat settler violence. By maintaining silence when a figure in a Native community engages in acts of domestic violence, we are not only enabling the abuse to continue unabated, we are also guilty of exposing others in our already high-risk communities to harm.
Responses seen in the comment sections of mainstream media as a reaction to recent high-profile incidents of domestic abuse, consistently demonstrate the prevalence of victim-blaming in the surrounding patriarchal colonial society. Settler society largely doesn’t value women, and this has been creeping onto our reservations and into our communities.
It didn’t used to be this way, and now that the Washington has turned the clock back to the anti-Native policies of the 1950’s, we MUST do better to protect our women in our communities, and to bring them back to the center of our Nations.
Women on our reservations experience domestic violence and assault as much as 50% higher than the next most victimized demographic . In a 2008 study by the CDC, over 38% of Native women have experienced domestic violence, which is higher than any other race or ethnicity on Turtle Island. While 70% of these incidences are caused by non-Natives, 30% of them – almost one in three – is by a Native partner. It’s time for us to end that.
When domestic violence happens in our communities, there appears to be a tendency to gather around an abuser and try to rescue them from whatever mental anguish is making them commit the abuse. Because of the way in which we value our families, women who are victimized are often encouraged to stay with an abuser and try to help the abuser work through his or her problems, which can have deadly consequences.
The unfortunate consequence of this behavior is that it oftentimes just enables an aggressor to continue their behavior. They become aware that they have the power to continue because if hey are brought to task in the future, they can try and convince those same people that they were not at fault again because of whatever pain they are carrying. This is a very typical pattern in those who commit acts of abuse, as well as the almost cliche threat of “If you leave, I’ll kill myself“.
If someone has become violent and is threatening self-harm, statistics and mental health experts, say that it is likely untrue. The mindset of an abuser is such that they place themselves above their partner, and someone who places themselves that highly is unlikely to self-harm. In the majority of cases of domestic violence, the mindset of the abuser is the same. The majority of threats they might make to you about hurting themselves are only designed to make you stay, or make you feel sympathy for them. Abusers will also gaslight the situation, hinting or nudging you towards an acceptance that they are hurting more than you are, or that you may even be imagining some of the abuse. An abuser will often redefine the narrative to blame others for their troubles, like for example, telling a victim that because of what they said or did was some sort of attack on them so they deserved to be punished. Abusers will seldom admit that they are wrong, or for that matter, less than perfect. It’s always someone else’s fault when they act inappropriately.
Rather than harboring thoughts of saving or rescuing the abuser in a situation where you are being abused, psychologists agree that the best cause of action is to save yourself. It is also the best path for your children, your community, and your Nation. Here’s where community is as important as our families. Like Elie Wessel once said, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”.
Our communities need to step up:
Only when we come together as a community, can we truly protect ourselves, and protect the sacred,