Recovering the Sacred: Speaking up about intimate partner violence |

Recovering the Sacred: Speaking up about intimate partner violence

Rebecca Chavez
Special to First Nation’s Focus
It might not be easy, but it’s important to seek help if you’re in an abusive relationship.
Photo: Shutterstock

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For culturally appropriate help and resources:

For help and resources in the Truckee Meadows:

For information on developing a safety plan:

RENO, Nev. — According to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), violence against indigenous women have reached epidemic proportions in the U.S.

More than 4 in 5 native women have experienced violence. Native women are twice as likely to experience rape or sexual assault and are 5 times more likely to be victims of homicide when compared to women of other racial groups.

Violence against women is happening both outside and within native communities. For many victims of violence, culturally appropriate resources are scarce. Issues with tribal jurisdiction, law enforcement, availability of emergency shelters and crisis services are very real barriers to the help and healing of victims of domestic abuse.

This month’s article focuses on intimate partner violence.

What is intimate partner violence?

Intimate partner violence is defined as violent, aggressive behavior that occurs within an intimate relationship. Abuse can happen in relationships where couples are married, living together, dating or have a child together.

Abusive behaviors can destroy one’s self esteem, instill fear, inflict physical harm, isolate one from friends and family or cause one to engage in activities or behave in ways they do not want.

Violent behavior can happen at any point in a relationship and being able to distinguish what is healthy or abusive in a relationship is more difficult than one might imagine- especially when abuse may be gradual. Common warning signs include:


Extreme jealousy or insecurity

Controlling behavior-telling someone what the can or can’t do, what to wear, who they can or can’t talk to, etc.

Stalking behavior-showing up at their partners workplace or constantly checking on their partners whereabouts

Checking their partners cell phones, email or social networks without permission.

Making false accusations

Constant put downs or belittling

Isolating their partner from family and friends

Repeatedly pressuring their partner for sex

Constant mood swings toward their partner

Explosive temper

Physically harming their partner in any way-this includes shoving, grabbing, slapping and physically restraining-this violence will escalate

Reporting abuse isn’t always easy

As a woman’s healthcare provider, I am obligated by law to report suspected abuse. I have seen firsthand the results of intimate partner violence.

Sadly, all too often the women I see will try to brush off the violence as an isolated event, make excuses for her partner or deny anything is wrong . Reporting abuse is not always easy for a native woman.

Many native women continue to live in small, tight-knit communities where open discussion regarding abuse, incest, rape or violence is considered taboo and incidences are swept under the rug rather than confronted.

Reporting domestic violence might mean getting a loved one into trouble with outside authorities. She may be financially dependent on her abuser and reporting him may lead to loss of needed income for herself and her children.

She may suffer retaliation from a powerful family in the community or suffer victim blaming from others. She may even be discouraged from reporting abuse by her own family due to perceived shame to themselves.

Choosing to suffer in silence and isolation in order to keep the peace within a community or family is not okay and may come at the expense of a woman’s life.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and need help, it is important to know where to turn for help and have a plan:

Call a local 24-hour emergency hotline. Find out what your legal rights and options are.

Document your injuries, take pictures.

Identify a safe place to go. This can be a trusted family member or friend or neighbor.

Keep pocket money on you at all times.

Make an extra set of house and car keys.

Keep an extra set of clothes for you and your children at your designated safe place.

Make copies of important documents: birth certificates, medical records, IDs.

Speak out against domestic violence

Awareness and prevention efforts are key to reducing intimate partner violence; and it takes the dedicated  efforts of our entire communities. Domestic violence was not a tradition among native communities prior to European colonization.

Although traditions and customs varied from tribe to tribe, there was a core belief that women were sacred and the family unit was meant to function with balance and harmony. The teachings children received helped them to become good relatives to each other.

The survival of the tribe depended on everyone maintaining this balance and when violence occurred within a family, it was viewed as a threat to the community as a whole.

A man who was violent toward his own family revealed himself to be unbalanced; lacking in self-discipline and understanding of spiritual ways. Within a tribal system, this individual could not hold positions of respect or leadership.

As parents we can begin by modeling behavior that will teach our children to have respectful, healthy, non-violent relationships.

We can be good relatives to our sisters, by not victim-shaming, but by offering our support, becoming a compassionate listener, and offering help as needed with transportation and childcare, helping to guide her to community services, and help her to develop her safety plan.

We can speak out against domestic violence and encourage our community leaders to adopt zero-tolerance policies

The takeaway from all this is: all women have the right to safe healthy relationships and a life free from abuse. O

“Recovering the Sacred” is a recurring column in First Nation’s Focus from Rebecca Chavez (Western Shoshone) — a certified nurse-midwife, women’s healthcare provider and a mother of two — focusing on various issues related to indigenous women’s health. If you have any questions or ideas for future topics, email her at


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