Nearly one in five women in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lives, and one in 71 men have experienced rape or attempted rape, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports.
Those statistics are staggering enough on their own, but they increase substantially in the Native American community.
According to the National Institute of Justice, 56.1 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women say they have experienced sexual violence. The same report shows 27.5 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native men also experienced sexual violence.
“The numbers are horrific, and we as Native people must stand up to this violence,” said Osage Nation Family Violence Program Director Olivia Gray.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and tribal authorities across Oklahoma have family violence programs, but only four tribes in Oklahoma — the Osage, Comanche, Chickasaw and Seminole — have shelters available to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Gray took over as director of the Osage Nation Family Violence Program in Pawhuska just seven months ago. She said there is a growing need for assistance within the Osage Nation for victims of sexual assault.
“The calls we have received for sexual assault victims has more than doubled in the past year,” Gray said. “We will assist and provide shelter for anyone in Osage County, regardless if they are Native. We also help all Native people in Oklahoma and Kansas, and we will help anyone who is Osage, regardless of where they live in the U.S.”
The family violence program and shelter do not receive funding from the Osage Nation, instead the program is sustained by federal grants. The program’s shelter can house six to seven people at any one time.
Because of the growing need, the Osage Nation Family Violence Program broke ground on a new shelter earlier this year. Gray said the new shelter will be open in fall, and will be a five-bedroom house.
“We will be able to house double the amount of victims in this new facility,” Gray said. “We are building trust in the community and we want to be able to let these victims know that we are here for them and we will make them safe. So many victims have a difficult time in feeling safe again. I have a talented, committed and caring staff that will provide them with the services they need.”
The Osage Nation Family Violence Program operates a 24-hour-a-day crisis line for any victim needing help with sexual assault, domestic and family violence. A crisis counselor can be reached by calling 1-866-897-4747.
National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s CEO Delilah Rumburg said a new survey shows more dialogue is needed to understand what can be defined as sexual assault.
“Sexual Assault Awareness Month is an opportunity to broaden the national conversation on sexual violence through engaging new voices, and we are heartened our survey reveals high levels of awareness around the serious and widespread problem of sexual assault,” Rumburg said. “However, the survey also pinpoints where our efforts must expand, namely among young adults and men, to foster an inclusive and productive conversation on sexual violence that will lead to better education, prevention efforts and outcomes.”
NSVRC’s Communications Director Laura Palumbo said broadening the national conversation on sexual violence helps build a culture of respect and support to prevent sexual violence in every community.
“Adults of all ages should be able to identify sexual assault in its many forms, whether verbal assault, intercourse where one partner does not give consent, or unwanted touching, such as groping or fondling,” she said. “The greater the awareness, the more likely individuals will be empowered to engage as bystanders and intervene to prevent sexual assault before or during an act.”
Additional information about the Osage Nation Family Violence Program is available at https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov. For more information about the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, visit http://www.nsvrc.org.