When this question is asked, people usually talk about rape as defined by the law. That leaves out the numerous other forms of sexual violence that virtually all women experience. Here we talk about sexual violence as defined by women. Though, sexual violence happens to men and children, the majority of victims of sexual violence are women. To undo violence against men and children, the first step is to undo violence against women. For those reasons, we talk about sexual violence against women from a woman’s perspective.
We know as women that all types of sexual violence is criminal no matter how the criminal justice system defines or responds to it. As native women we know that sexual violence is unnatural and a crime against the woman, her family and the entire community. We know that before colonization, before reservations, sexual violence was extremely rare, there were no excuses, no victim-blaming. Consequences were immediate and severe - usually death.
All forms of sexual violence are types of rape - violent acts where sex is the weapon. Using sex as a weapon is very effective and violent because sexual acts harm us spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. These acts are always about taking power and control away, causing humiliation and proving dominance.
The range or continuum of sexual violence begins with a thought. All sexual violence against women is caused by and begins with the thought that women are basically spiritless sex objects that are inferior to men. Without that thought or belief, there would be no violence against women. We know this because in traditional native culture women are known to be sacred, possessing powerful spirits and the ability to give and nurture life. To harm a woman was to harm yourself and everyone else. Rape and battering were therefore nearly unheard of.
American society in general aims sexual violence at all women through sexualized images of women in advertisements, song lyrics and other media. Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry that is nothing but sexual violence. Prostitution and sex trafficking/slavery are sexual violence businesses that impact the safety and integrity of all women. The knowledge that 1 in 3 native women will be raped (according to the legal definition of rape) makes the constant awareness of the possibility and fear of rape an intangible, constant act of violence against all women. We may not think of it in this way, but the proof is in the fact that women routinely change their behaviors and create life ways in order to prevent rape from happening to them. Going out or even to the bathroom in groups, not going out alone, especially at night, parking in well-lit places, listening for foot steps, checking the back seat of the car before you get in…. Hotels do not say your room number out loud, and instead write it down; employers and stores have special lighting and cameras in parking areas and isolated places. All because of the prevalence of rape. It may not be often said publicly, but sexual violence against women is a societal and institutional matter.
Individual women experience sexual violence everyday without any physical contact. Men starring at sexual parts of her body and unwanted sexual comments and gestures. Telephones, texting, cyber- stalking and e-mail have become common methods of sexual violence. Sex acts demanded or else get fired or not promoted. Legally, these behaviors are usually defined as “sexual harassment.” Lack of physical contact does not necessarily mean less trauma.
The violence escalates the closer men get: “flashing” or exhibitionism - expose their genitals to unsuspecting women; “peeping,” or violating personal space and privacy - hiding while watching women dress/undress, go to the bathroom, bathe etc.
The violence continues to escalate with touching. Fondling and molestation include unwanted, sexualized touching that are degrading and humiliating. These actions include brushing or rubbing up and pressing against someone without their consent, pinching someone’s buttocks or grabbing sexual parts of the body.
Prostitution is forcing a woman to perform sex acts for money or in trade. Generally this “business” is controlled by men and relies on society’s acceptance of women as sex objects. And, as with all forms of rape, society’s acceptance of men’s entitlement to sex.
Incest is the rape of children by their own relatives. These acts require people to see children as property and sex objects.
Rape is defined legally as forced sexual intercourse, and/or using force to commit oral, anal or vaginal sex. Rape occurs by gangs, with use of objects and even animals. It is not uncommon, though rarely talked about that some batterers have been know to bring other men home to rape their wives, again proving that they have total control over her.
Most rapes are done by someone the woman knows. Teachers, relatives, clergy, school friend, therapists and even so-called traditional spiritual leaders have sexually violated women (and children) using their relationship as part of their trap in order to rape. This creates a sense of betrayal that is logical, but extremely painful. If one of those people rapes you, who do you trust to tell? Who do you ever trust again?
All of these types of sexual violence are forms of rape. The trauma they inflict can last a lifetime, if safety, support and resources for healing aren’t provided. Women do not tell or seek help often because they feel shame and responsibility for what happened to them. This thinking is a result of unnatural beliefs and attitudes about sexual violence taught by society. Woman/victim-blaming is a type of rape in itself. Some women don’t blame themselves, but won’t tell, because going through the criminal justice system means making themselves vulnerable again and re-living the rape repeatedly, often with no consequences for the rapist. They know they may be shunned or re-assaulted. Some women know all this and still testify as their way of reclaiming their power and control over their lives. They believe that even if there is no conviction, they have “outted” a rapist. In doing so they protect other women from the rapist.
Telling is a woman’s choice. Many women do not tell for weeks, months or many years - even decades. It can take that long to get strong enough and find enough safety and support to talk about the rape. The more people talk about rape openly as a violent crime, state repeatedly and loudly that rape is never the victim’s fault, accept no excuses for it, provide support for those who have been raped and hold the offender accountable with severe consequences, the more sense it makes for women to come forward and heal. Rape can be stopped. In Native communities, especially there is hope for peaceful, non-violent communities, because traditionally women are honored as sacred and men are their protectors, not their rapists. Respect for all people is the foundation of the culture.
” Even in thought, women are to be respected…men can be transformed…..”
- One message from the White Buffalo Calf Woman as told by Tillie Black Bear - Sicangu Lakota