Sexual assault survivors and agencies that advocate on their behalf gathered at the state capitol in Oklahoma City on Thursday to share their stories of sexual violence in Indian country.
American Indians are two and a half times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to any other group, and one third of native women will be raped during her lifetime, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Shawn Partridge is the president of the Native Alliance Against Violence (NAAV) and manager of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Family Violence Prevention Program. She said there is an epidemic level of sexual violence.
“If we want people to come forward and be able to disclose when they’ve been victimized, then we have to be ready to accept that information and support them because I think we know that a lot of times in society victims are blamed and shamed,” Partridge said.
Survivors took turns at the podium, including Cherrah Giles of the Muskogee (Creek) Nation. She was molested as a young child.
“As much as I tried to suppress those memories and not think about those things, it wasn’t until I was 18 that I actually disclosed to my parents what happened to me. Those wounds still carried with me and it took a lot of healing,” Giles said. “I just encourage those today, we’re finding a lot of women, elder women in our communities, who never disclosed, never had their stories told, and now they are coming forward.”
Partridge encourages the development of an environment that supports disclosure, and knowledge of where survivors can turn for help.
Members of NAAV laid out the Monument Quilt, a collection of survivors’ stories, on the capitol lawn.