Lori Jump: 'Silence protects violence, and this silence must end'
Indian Country, we must do better to protect and believe our vulnerable young relatives.
Editor’s note: Lori Jump, a longtime victim advocate who is a citizen of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, gave us permission to reprint her following column. Her call to action is written in context of the widespread news that acclaimed Indigenous artist Walter “Bunky” Echo-Hawk Jr. was arrested in January after a child told Pawnee police that he had repeatedly molested them, according to court documents. Echo-Hawk has said he is innocent. Several of his previous supporters in Indian Country, including some members of his prominent family, have said they choose to believe the alleged victim.
Recent news of a celebrated Indigenous artist from a prominent Indigenous family being charged with a criminal count of lewd behavior toward a child under the age of 16 has hit Indian country very hard. The victim reported being touched inappropriately and repeatedly for several years since the age of seven or eight.
Emotions are running high among those who know the alleged perpetrator personally to those who don’t know him at all. This is not unusual in Indian Country, which can seem like a large extended family with just a few degrees of separation between people. In other words, like any small community, everybody knows everybody else.
Unfortunately, the inclination in our society is to not believe the victim. “I can’t believe they would do something like this” or “innocent until proven guilty” most often seems to accompany reports of abuse. And too many times the law hasn’t come out on the side of victims, especially when perpetrators are celebrities or well-known people.
Instead, we should always start by believing, especially when the victim is a child or young adult. False allegations are rare in these cases. Research has shown that most children delay telling anyone about their abuse, if they ever do tell. It is critical that they be believed when they trust you enough to tell their story.
Here are the facts about child sexual abuse, which is widespread. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center report, Serving Teen Survivors: A Manual for Advocates, young people who experience sexual violence are most likely to have been abused by a peer or someone they know. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network):
One in 9 girls and one in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.
82 percent of all victims under 18 are female.
Females ages 16 to 19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
I am acutely aware why there is this hesitancy to speak out or even stay silent when it comes to sexual or other forms of violence in our communities. I understand that there may be shame or even fear attached to these difficult conversations. But we must not ignore the fact that sexual abuse toward our precious children happens within our communities.
Sexual abuse is not our tradition. Our teachings are resiliency, honoring our ancestors and our medicines and sharing our stories and teachings. Our children are sacred and are the future of our cultural survival as Indigenous peoples. In our Indigenous communities, protecting the Seventh Generation — meaning our children and our children’s children — is more than just an idea, it is our sacred duty.
Silence protects violence, and the violence and the silence that accompanies it must stop. As Indigenous peoples it is our responsibility to speak out against abusers in our communities and hold them accountable. And, most important, we must remember that sexual abuse is never the victim’s fault.
StrongHearts Native Helpline, which is available for free nationwide, is a culturally-appropriate, anonymous, confidential service dedicated to serving Native American and Alaska Native survivors of domestic, dating and sexual violence and concerned relatives and friends. Knowledgeable advocates provide peer support, crisis intervention, personalized safety planning and referrals to Native-centered support services. Call or text 1-844-7NATIVE or visit our website for chat advocacy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Lori Jump is the director of the StrongHearts Native Helpline. She has worked for more than 25 years as the program manager of the Advocacy Resource Center (ARC), a comprehensive victim services program for the Sault Tribe, providing advocacy, shelter and civil legal representation for victims of domestic and sexual violence. She is a founding member, former executive director and current board member of Uniting Three Fires Against Violence, Michigan’s statewide tribal coalition.
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