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According to the US Justice Department, Native American women face rates of rape more than double that of the national average, but as the New York Times reports, they receive very little protection from rape or sexual assault. Particularly vulnerable are Native women in rural Alaska; in a survey conducted by the Alaska Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in rural Alaskan communities is 12 times that of the national average. Despite these high rates, Indian Health Services hospitals lack resources to aid survivors of sexual assault, such as proper training and sexual assault kits. Native American women also have limited access to birth control, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and the morning-after pill.

In the face of these issues, Congress is struggling to implement protective measures against rape and sexual violence in Native communities. The US Senate passed a new version of the  Violence Against Women Act of 1994 that would allow tribal courts the power to prosecute non-Indians suspected of sexually assaulting their Indian spouses or domestic partners. The House, however, removed this authority in the version of the bill they passed. Both House Republicans and Senate Republicans fear the power it would give to tribal courts, despite the fact that 86% of reported rapes against Native women are committed by non-Native men.

The Emmonak Women’s Shelter has offered protection for many years to Native women who have been abused or raped, but will likely face closure.  Due to the frequency of assault and rarity of prosecution, this shelter is often the only option Native American women in the surrounding Alaskan villages have, however in 2005 Alaska chose to cut off funding to the shelter.

Charon Asetoyer, a women’s health advocate on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, says rape has become the norm.

“We should never have a woman come into the office saying, ‘I need to learn more about Plan B for when my daughter gets raped. That’s what’s so frightening — that it’s more expected than unexpected. It has become a norm for young women.”

When it comes to fighting the frighteningly high levels of rape, Native American women are left behind by the tribal, federal, and state level. With insufficient funding and resources to combat sexual violence, it seems likely their rates will continue to soar above the national averages.

For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape, Rare Justice [NY Times]

Trigger Warning: Images and links in this post contain racist caricatures and explicitly reference female genital mutilation (FGM)

As part of World Art Day on April 15th, Afro-swedish artist Makode Aj Linde (pictured above) exhibited an art piece centered on female genital mutilation (FGM) at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Linde’s piece was a cake in the shape of a black female torso while the artist used himself as the head of the cake; the body included neck rings and Linde donned a cartoonish red mouth and white eyes in reference to blackface minstrelsy. At the museum, the Swedish minister of culture, Adelsohn Liljeroth, cut and ate the cake. Reportedly, white attendees laughed, joked, and took pictures as Lijeroth ate the cake while Linde let out a cry each time someone made a cut to the body. Photos and videos of the event have since made their way around the internet and been subject to ensuing criticism and backlash. Kitimbwa Sabuni, spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association, denigrated the minister’s participation in the event, calling it “a racist spectacle” that “simply adds to the mockery of racism in Sweden.” Nsenga K. Burton at The Root says that the minster’s “willing participation in it speaks to the perversion of power as it relates to race, gender and sexuality.”

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In the US, one in six women will face rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. Specify that to Native American women, and statistics say one in three will face rape at least one in her lifetime. Yet despite facing the highest national rates of rape of any ethnic group, Native American women are largely left behind when it comes to federal measures to protect their reproductive health. A new report from the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC) says that Native women living on reserves face huge obstacles in accessing the emergency contraceptive pill, Plan B. The 2010 Tribal Order Act mandated that the federal Indian Health Service develop and implement sexual assault policies, but the NAWHERC report shows that they have been negligent in actually doing so at a local level. The IHS oversees most health facilities within reservations, and as NAWHERC executive director Charon Asetoyer discusses in her interview with Colorlines, these facilities have been limiting Native women’s access to emergency contraception.

So are you saying that IHS facilities don’t offer emergency contraception to rape victims?

They do offer it, but they’re using the old, harsh formula of several high-dose birth control pills. First of all, why would a woman have to go through that? And second of all, to get the old treatment, you have to have a prescription. A lot of women who have experienced spousal rape or date rape don’t want to report it to a physician. Even if they do, the [only] clinic within 100 miles is closed for the weekend and there’s no emergency room close by. Basically they’re being denied a service they’re entitled to under the Affordable Care Act.

Asetoyer says the Department of Health and Human Services needs to demand that the IHS make Plan  B available on demand and over the counter to women 17 or older. Considering the disproportionate rate at which Native women face rape, providing access to emergency contraception should be a priority. And since 86% of reported rapes against Native women are committed by non-Native men, this is not a problem only the Native women in need of contraception should be fighting.

Native American Women Lack Access to Plan B [The Feminist Wire]

Why Native American Women Are Battling for Plan B [Colorlines]

Read the full report by NAWHERC here.

Teju Cole published a very well-written piece in The Atlantic yesterday titled “The White Savior Industrial Complex.” I would highly recommend the essay to anyone, and in particular anyone involved in or interested in activism. Cole talks specifically about the recent Kony and Invisible Children phenomenon, but his essay is also a broader critique of recent American methods of activism and journalistic language that both cater more to protecting the comfort of the privileged few than to effecting any real change. Cole says it better than I can, and there are many good lines to illustrate this point, but here is one choice quotation:

People of color, women, and gays — who now have greater access to the centers of influence that ever before — are under pressure to be well-behaved when talking about their struggles.

Anything but well-mannered language would risk making people, such as privileged white, heterosexual men, uncomfortable, and it is no coincidence that these people still control these centers of influence. “Neutered language,” as Cole labels it, is preferable because it is easier to swallow than the kind of language he used in his tweet above. And then theres Kony 2012. The Kony video resorts to sensationalism instead of such soft language, but still caters to the needs of the White Industrial Savior Complex over the people it purports itself to be helping. The video gained popularity because it allowed many (white) Americans to feel better about themselves by spreading its message. The narrative positions Ugandans as hapless victims of a single villain in need of a savior; it makes it seem easy for privileged white American to jump in and fulfill this role. This renders the Ugandans as passive and completely powerless to change their own circumstances.

It may seem a broad jump to make, but Cole’s essay made me think about why we at SACOMSS include “pro-survivor” as part of our mandate. Survivor is not a perfect word for everyone who has experienced sexual assault, nor is it a label anyone should be forced to take on. We use survivor however to supplant the word “victim,” the more common term given to people who’ve experienced sexual assault.

When someone is ascribed the label of victim they are rendered passive and thus unable to fight. To self-identify as a victim is another story, and anyone’s decision to do so should be honored. To label someone a victim however also opens up the door for another person to act as savior, whether or not the “victim” wanted this in the first place. The savior is allowed to be active, and the victim becomes passive. The act of helping then becomes more about the person doing the help rather than the person receiving it. One person is helpless, the other powerful. Rather providing aid, confining someone to the status of victim can reproduce the same structure that allowed harm to be done to this person in the first place; the structure wherein the privileged few possess all power and control, and others none.

This does not mean helping others always come out of a selfish need, or that anyone’s desire to help is always misplaced. Truly helping though requires, as Cole says, some humility and respect.

It begins, I believe, with some humility with regards to the people in those places. It begins with some respect for the agency of the people of Uganda in their own lives. A great deal of work had been done, and continues to be done, by Ugandans to improve their own country, and ignorant comments (I’ve seen many) about how “we have to save them because they can’t save themselves” can’t change that fact.

Some of Cole’s words may very well make certain people uncomfortable. His series of tweets from a few days ago (of which one is pictured at the top) certainly did. Unlike the Kony video, his words may have forced people to come face to face with their privilege; possessing privilege also means being blind to it, and thus looking at it can be an uncomfortable experience. It is a necessary step to take though when fighting for any cause, and is part of why activism is such hard work.

The White Savior Industrial Complex [The Atlantic] via Racialicious

Edited to add: For more on privilege, read Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” (via Dear Black Woman)

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