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Everyone has the right to a safe and healthy relationship

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM) and it is a national effort to raise awareness on dating violence among our young relatives. Dating violence is more common than many people think. Although TDVAM campaigns focus on our young relatives who are in middle and high school, dating violence can happen to anyone, regardless of their age, race, gender, sexual orientation, financial status, or background. Moreover, many people don’t realize how prevalent dating violence can be on college campuses too.

Everyone has the right to a safe and healthy relationship. So, why is it important to spread awareness on dating violence?

  • American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races, and one in three Indian women reports having been raped during her lifetime.
  • Nearly half of all Native American women have been raped, beaten, or stalked by an intimate partner.
  • Murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian/Alaska Native Women
  • 43% of dating college women report experiencing some violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, tech, verbal or controlling abuse.
  • Over one in five college women (22%) report actual physical abuse, sexual abuse or threats of physical violence.
  • 52% of college women report knowing a friend who has experienced violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, tech, verbal or controlling abuse.
  • More than half (57%) of college students who report having been in an abusive dating relationship said it occurred in college.

What is Dating Violence and What Does it Look Like?

Dating violence (also known as dating abuse or intimate partner violence) is a pattern of abusive behaviors (physical, emotional and/or verbal, digital, financial, stalking and sexual) used to exert power and control over a dating partner (Learn more of our focus areas here).

  • Physical – For example, when a partner is pinched, hit, bit, shoved or kicked.
  • Emotional – This action can involve threatening a partner or harming a partner’s sense of self-worth. Some examples include name-calling, shaming, bullying, embarrassing on purpose, or keeping the partner away from friends and family.
  • Sexual – This is forcing a partner to engage in a sex act when he or she does not or cannot consent. Unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime. Dating violence often starts with teasing and name calling. These behaviors are often thought to be a “normal” part of a relationship. But these behaviors can lead to more serious violence like physical assault and rape.
  • Technological– Using social media to harass, stalk, bully, shame, embarrass or humiliate.

Unfortunately, dating violence on college campuses is sometimes not reported. Or sometimes victims don’t realize they’re being abuse by their partner. Those who do know they’re experiencing abuse don’t report it because of the belief that dating violence is a private matter, therefore, making them feel trapped by the social networks and/or the closed environment of college campuses. College students experiencing abuse may feel isolated from their personal support systems and resources for help because they are away from home. Some don’t report because they are afraid of the circumstances and blame if they do report it, which is not their fault. And they may not report their experience because their abuser will stalk them, or their administrators will not fully understand the issue.

Developing On-Campus Safety

  • Know your resources. Who should you contact if you or someone you know needs help? Where should you go? Locate resources/services on your college campuses, such as health centers and campus police. Search and locate local sexual assault services and domestic violence services. Identify where emergency phones are located on campus, and for easy access save the campus security number into your cellphone.
  • Stay alert. When you’re moving around on campus or in the surrounding neighborhood, be aware of your surroundings. Consider inviting a friend to join you or asking campus security for an escort. If you’re alone, only use headphones in one ear to stay aware of your surroundings.
  • Be careful about posting your location. Many social media sites, like Facebook and Foursquare, use geolocation to publicly share your location. Consider disabling this function and reviewing other social media settings.
  • Make others earn your trust. A college environment can foster a false sense of security. They may feel like fast friends, but give people time to earn your trust before relying on them.
  • Think about Plan B. Spend some time thinking about back-up plans for potentially sticky situations. If your phone dies, do you have a few numbers memorized to get help? Do you have emergency cash in case you can’t use a credit card? Do you have the address to your dorm or college memorized? If you drive, is there a spare key hidden, gas in your car, and a set of jumper cables?
  • Be secure. Lock your door and windows when you’re asleep and when you leave the room. If people constantly prop open the main door to the dorm or apartment, tell security or a trusted authority figure.

You can read more on increasing on-campus safety from RAINN here.

Being a Good Relative

It can be hard to know what steps to take or even how to start the conversation. But we all have a part in stopping dating violence, even if that one thing seems small in the moment. If you feel like someone you know may be in an abusive relationship, there are ways you may be able to help. Here are some ways that you may be able to help:

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend who you think needs help. Tell then you’re concerned for their safety and want to help.
  • Be supportive and listen patiently. Acknowledge their feelings and be respectful of their decisions.
  • Help your friend, not the abusive partner. Even if your friend stays with their partner, it’s important that they still feel comfortable talking to you about it.
  • Don’t contact their abuser or publicly post negative things about them online. It’ll only worsen the situation for your friend.
  • Even when you feel like there’s nothing you can do, don’t forget that by being supportive and caring you’re already doing a lot.
  • Believe your friend!

Although the challenges that our Native communities face may be staggering, there is a light of resilience building up within you, relatives. You are powerful, creative, innovative and passionate. You deserve relationships that are free from violence and abuse. Here are ways you may be able to do to make a difference in your community:

  • Share: Encouraging your school, community-based organizations, Tribal leaders, parents, and relatives to come together to learn about dating violence and ways to prevent it in our homes and communities
  • Call In: If you hear someone tell a joke that makes fun of sexual violence or teen dating violence, feel empowered to say something so the violence is not normalized. 
  • Organize: Organize a campaign in your community or college campuses to bring awareness about dating violence. 
  • Share: Public Service Announcements from other Native Nations as examples in your communities and to inspire relatives from your community/college campuses too.
  • Educate: Read and Share Blogs/Articles with your friends, family, educators, coaches, and Tribal Leaders.
  • Support community education and outreach to increase knowledge that informs youth on consent, boundaries, and the right to make decisions for their bodies.
  • Support LGBTQS2+ Native relatives by referring to them by the preferred name and pronouns.
  • Educate: Ask for direct service providers, educators, law enforcement, and tribal leaders to learn how to respectfully respond to violence against you or someone you know.

Here at the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women (CSVANW) we focus our efforts on domestic violence, sexual violence, sex trafficking, child abuse and neglect, and teen dating violence. Violence is often interconnected and can be seen as a symptom of larger systemic social problems within our families and our communities. Addressing the social challenges faced by our Native women and children is only possible through the destruction of silos and the forging of strong partnerships between organizations and individuals across our communities.

Our grounding in the movement to end violence is not only to organize but to mobilize our communities towards healthier families and healthier communities. The voices of our communities and the strengths of our women and children shape our priorities, approach and the solutions to violence.

As a tribal coalition, CSVANW does not provide emergency or directs services. If you are in an unsafe situation or need immediate assistance, please dial 911.

For a safe, confidential way to talk with someone right now, please call:

Rape Abuse Incest National Network: 1-800-656-4673 (HOPE) | www.rainn.org 

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) | www.ndvh.org 

Strong Hearts Native Helpline: 1-844-762-8483 | www.strongheartshelpline.org