COMMENTARY: Domestic violence awareness and why it matters

by Oct 15, 2019OPINIONS





I sat down a few days ago with the idea that I would churn out a quick article for October which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  I asked myself, “Why is this issue so important to members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee?” Is it because it is a complex monster, with far reaching tentacles that grip families physically, psychologically, sexually, and even economically?  Because it is so often unreported and hidden from plain view? Why does awareness matter?

As an advocate and domestic violence attorney for the Cherokee Legal Assistance Office, I am all too familiar with the seriousness of this matter, but I really wanted to show why domestic violence awareness is particularly important to the Cherokee people.  When I delved into the statistics for American Indian and Alaskan women provided by the National Institute for Justice in 2016, I was blown away by the numbers.

A staggering 84.3 percent, or 4 in 5 native women have experienced some type of violence at least once in their lifetime.  55.5 percent of native women have been victims of violence by an intimate partner. Additionally, well over half of all native women have encountered sexual violence at least one time during their life.

How do these numbers stack up against non-Indian communities?  Once again, I was shocked by the numbers.  A native woman is 1.7 times more likely to have experienced violence in the past year than a white woman. Furthermore, American Indian and Alaskan women are two times more likely to have been raped, and three times more likely to have been murdered in the past year than white women.

The numbers are sobering and grim.  How do we stop it, or even slow it down?  Awareness is the first step.  Stop pretending that it doesn’t happen in your community and step up. The numbers wouldn’t be so high if it didn’t stay hidden behind walls, both concrete and familial. Speak out if you suspect something is going on.

Always alert Tribal police if you suspect someone is in danger. Beyond that, there are numerous organizations dedicated to stopping domestic violence and assisting those that have experienced it. Many have strict rules about confidentiality so that the victim can tell their story without fear of judgment or repercussion.  Additionally, these organizations can often provide resources such as housing, clothes or financial assistance to help victims escape a bad situation. Here in Cherokee, the Ernestine Walkingstick Shelter is a primary resource for survivors of domestic violence.  They can be reached anytime at (828) 359-6830.

At the start of this article I asked the question, ‘why does it matter?’. Chances are certain that if you’re a native woman and haven’t personally experienced violence, sexual assault or even rape from a partner, you know someone who has.  It’s very likely that she is someone close or even related to you. It could be your sister, daughter, or even your mother. Why does it matter? That’s why it matters.

Arnold is an attorney with the Legal Assistance Office of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.