Native American survivors of domestic violence and dating violence can now access anonymous, culturally relevant safety planning and resources, thanks to the new StrongHearts Native Helpline launched last week by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC), in partnership with the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
The new helpline was created by and for Native communities, which has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the United States―and the statistics are staggering. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Native Americans and Alaska Natives are more than twice as likely to experience rape and sexual assault, compared to all other races. More than 84 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native women experience violence in their lifetimes, with over 66 percent reporting that they were “concerned for their safety.” Native people are also five times more likely to be the victim of homicide. Historically, however, they have lacked access to services.
“The reality is that so many of our American Indian and Alaska Native people experience domestic violence and dating violence every day,” said Lucy Rain Simpson, executive director of the NIWRC and a citizen of the Navajo Nation. “It has never been more evident that our Native people need a Native helpline to support efforts to restore power and safety in our tribal communities. The StrongHearts Native Helpline is ready to answer that call.”
“The Hotline has served victims and survivors of domestic violence for 20 years, and we recognize that Native American survivors have uniquely complex needs,” said Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of The Hotline. “Through StrongHearts, domestic violence advocates will be able to address those complex needs with an unparalleled level of specificity.”
Organizers said that the helpline’s initial service areas include Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, in which tribal citizens will be able to connect with knowledgeable StrongHearts advocates who will provide support, assist with safety planning and connect them with resources based on their specific tribal affiliation, community location and culture at no charge. Callers outside of these states can also call StrongHearts for safety planning and assistance while the helpline continues to develop its services network throughout the rest of the country.
“The team will leverage the large number of Native-centered resources established within these states to begin providing services, with further outreach to tribal communities as StrongHearts continues to grow,” said Simpson. “But we’re already taking calls from all over the country. So whether you live inside or outside the initial service area, we can assist you with a safety plan and information, as well as an ear to listen and talk. We have advocates who are trained to be able to catch the nuances that non-Natives may not recognize.”
Shawn Partridge is the director of the Family Violence Prevention Program at the Muscogee Creek Nation in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. In partnership with Oklahoma’s Native Alliance Against Violence (NAAV), she said that the organizations are working to unite all of the domestic violence programs to provide better access to safety, services and support for Native survivors.
“The alarming rates of domestic and sexual violence being committed against Native women require us to develop and utilize every resource we have to ensure our women have options and supports available to them to address their safety needs and concerns―and most importantly so they know they are not alone,” said Partridge. “The new Strong Hearts Native helpline can serve as additional resource for confidential support and to help put Native women in touch with tribal programs nearest to them.”
Partridge said that part of the problem for many Native communities is that their citizens are often located outside the tribe’s jurisdiction due to the diasporic nature of Indian country.
“From an advocacy standpoint, we have Muscogee Creek all over the country,” said Partridge. “So if they’re in California, for example, they’re still our citizen and we’re going to do everything we can to help them, including putting them in touch with non-tribal services regardless of where they are to making sure they have access to the help and services they need.”
Additionally, Partridge pointed out that many counties within Oklahoma do not provide services at all. “In three of the counties in our jurisdiction the Muscogee Creek Nation is the only service provider, so we help everyone,” said Partridge. “Tribes are an important partner in addressing and improving victim safety for everyone.”
Simpson said that advocates at the StrongHearts Native Helpline are not only trained to navigate each caller’s abuse situation with a strong understanding of Native cultures, but are also familiar with issues of tribal sovereignty and law.
“Our advocates are in the best position to respond to the needs of victims of domestic violence,” said Simpson. “Oftentimes in Indian country, communities are small and people are nervous about being seen or having their cars spotted. This hotline provides the confidentiality and anonymity people need to be able to seek help.”
StrongHeart was made possible by a grant from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Family and Youth Services Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and a corporate sponsorship from the Verizon Foundation.
The helpline can be reached by dialing 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST. Callers after hours will have the option to connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or to call back the next business day.