How Abusive Partners Use Sexual
Assault as a Form of Control
Byline: Mallory Black, Diné, Communications Manager, StrongHearts Native Helpline
Sexual violence can be difficult to talk about. Some people feel uncomfortable when the subject comes up, which – intentionally or not – sends a message to survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault that they won't be believed if they come forward.
Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact that you do not consent to. In an abusive relationship, some partners might sexually assault their partner or force them into unwanted sexual activity as a means of control. This type of violence can be one of the most traumatic forms of relationship abuse.
Across the nation, more than half of Native American women (56 percent) and about one-third of Native men (28 percent) have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, according to a recent report. The report also found that Native women – our mothers, grandmothers, daughters and sisters – face nearly two times the risk of sexual violence when compared to non-Hispanic white women.
Sexual abuse in a relationship
There is a strong connection between colonialism and sexual violence. As Native people, we know any form of violence such as sexual assault and sexual abuse is unnatural and goes against our traditional ways. Sexual violence was introduced into our communities through colonization, as Native women were often violently targeted, humiliated, degraded and terrorized as a way to undermine the very foundation of Native communities.
As a form of domestic violence, sexual abuse is used to assert power and control in the relationship. The behaviors can range from:
Calling you degrading sexual names
Fondling, grabbing or pinching the sexual parts of your body
Constantly pressuring you to have sex when you don't want to have sex
Becoming angry or violent when refused sex
Demanding or normalizing demands for sex by saying things like, "I need it, I'm a man"
Drugging or restricting you to where you are unable to consent to sexual activity
Forcing you to have sex or engage in unwanted sexual activity (ex. rape, anal rape, forced masturbation or forced oral sex)
Using weapons or other objects to hurt the sexual parts of your body
Records or photographs you in a sexual way without your consent
Intentionally tries to pass on a sexually transmitted disease to you
Threatening to hurt you or your children if you do not have sex
Demanding you to dress is a sexual way
Forcing you to watch pornography
Lasting effects of sexual violence
Sexual assault can affect your spirit in many ways, including feelings of depression, fear or anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some survivors may experience flashbacks of the attack or may disassociate from what happened entirely to cope with the trauma. When there is ongoing sexual abuse in a relationship, trauma and other negative impacts can worsen.
Some survivors may become very sensitive to touch or struggle with intimacy in their relationships. It's important to recognize not all survivors will react the same way and often report a range of feelings about the experience.
After a sexual attack, you may feel alone, ashamed or believe you did something to provoke the attack or that you somehow 'deserved it.' You may also feel that your community is not a safe place anymore. However, you are never to blame for rape, sexual assault or any form of abuse that happens to you.
Finding hope and healing
Recovering from sexual assault or sexual abuse is a process and one in which you decide every step of the way. There is no timeline for healing; it is entirely up to you.
It is important to know that in the aftermath of sexual assault or abuse, you do not have to face your healing journey alone. When you are ready, there are people available to help you if you have been sexually assaulted or are being sexually abused by a current or former intimate partner.
Advocates at StrongHearts Native Helpline (1-844-762-8483, available daily from 7 a.m. to. 10 p.m. CT) can offer emotional support and a connection to culturally-appropriate resources and legal options where available. It is always anonymous and confidential when you call. You can also find sexual assault service providers here.
While your healing journey may be painful, remember you were born with the inherent strength and courage of your ancestors to survive. We believe you. We are here for you every step of the way.