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Patty Talahongva
Indian Country Today

In her sophomore year of high school, CC Hovie, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, thought she had the best boyfriend on campus. He was smart, athletic and earnest.

She introduced him to her friends and family but he didn’t seem to have any friends of his own. Shortly after the two started dating, she started feeling uncomfortable because he wanted to spend time with just her.

“One of the major red flags to me,” she recalls, “looking back on it now was just the isolation.” At the time, she thought maybe this was how serious relationships were, just the two people hanging out together.

Slowly he started dictating what clothes she could wear, criticizing outfits he didn’t like and ignoring her at school if he didn’t like what she was wearing.

He also became jealous when other boys talked to her. Eventually, that jealousy turned violent. Hovie put up with the abuse for a year not knowing where to turn for help.

“I felt like I had to figure it out on my own a lot. And there were friends that had pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey, don't you think it's weird when A, B and C happens. And then he does this?’”

She was also afraid to tell her parents because she thought she was to blame for the violence. She feared her car privileges and seeing other friends would be taken away as her punishment.

When she finally got the courage to break up, that led to being stalked.

(Related: Opinion: You have the right to deny or accept any type of sexual activity)

It’s this first hand experience that resonates with youth when they hear her story. She wrote in detail about her experience on the StrongHearts website.

Today, Hovie is the communications manager for the group Strong Hearts Native Helpline.

Each February when some couples are busy sharing chocolates and valentines, Strong Hearts is raising awareness about Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

And in Indian Country, there’s other layers of abuse.

“There's different types of dating violence. Obviously, there's physical violence, sexual violence, psychological aggressions stalking, but Native teens may also experience cultural and spiritual abuse,” Hovie said.

“And that can look like your dating partner saying, ‘oh, you're too Native.’ Or, ‘oh, my tribe does this. You're not allowed to do that. And that's not the way we do things. And I don't want you to go to a cultural event or something of that nature.’ So, that's an added piece to the puzzle when it comes to Indigenous teen dating violence.”

(Related: Opinion: Silence protects violence, and this silence must end)

It’s a real issue as the statistics bear out. “Approximately one in 11 females and one in 15 males, high school students experienced physical dating violence in the last year and that's a statistic from the CDC.”

“If they start to notice that their friend is missing practice or missing classes, or they're not going to cultural events anymore and they're noticing that their friend is kind of pulling away and they have suspicions about the dating relationship, it's a good time to talk to a trusted adult. That can be a teacher, a coach, an auntie and uncle. It can even be Strong Hearts Native helpline.” That number is 1-844-7-NATIVE

“We're 24/7. You can call, text or chat us online and we can help answer those questions about what a healthy relationship looks like,” Hovie said.

Native youth can also call to ask questions about their relationships and get advice on how to handle peer pressure.

“Our advocates do take calls, um, and text daily from teens reaching out where they have questions about relationships,” Hovie said. “My partner wants to go further sexually than I do, how do I say no? How do I set boundaries? And those kinds of discussions are happening daily.”

Hovie encourages Native youth to not be afraid to ask for help.

“You're not alone and we will listen without judgment and we are here to help.”

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