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Sexual Assault Awareness Month hits close to home for Native community

University of California

In 2009, Barack Obama became the first president to recognize April as sexual assault awareness month.

Since then, numerous initiatives have sought to combat the problem. President Joe Biden's administration included $450m in the American Rescue Plan for domestic violence and sexual assault services. But one group remains particularly vulnerable. According to theDepartment of Justice, Native women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault.

KUNM spoke with Jolene Holgate with the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. Holgate began by saying the community needs to be accountable to each other through the values they have.

JOLENE HOLGATE: It's really important that along with the awareness and talking about it, it's also important that we think about how do we hold one another accountable and being a good relative with one another.

So what that means is, it's where we meet to think about values that are important to us, like kinship, healing, and the love for one another.

KUNM: Can you tell me a little bit more about what barriers indigenous survivors of sexual assault are facing?

HOLGATE: If we think about today, some of those barriers and challenges on the Navajo Nation alone, there is a backlog of rape kits. And because sexual assault is a federal crime, those rape kits go to, I believe, Quantico. And there's such a backlog where these women are not getting justice. At the same time. It's the lack of resources that doesn't go to support the survivors of sexual violence, things like wraparound services, counseling, and even traditional healing

And I'm going to speak from a Navajo experience, because that's what I know, is that my aunties and my grandmother', I look up to them as very strong women. But when they disclose to me these things that happened to them a long time ago, it really breaks my heart.

KUNM: And why do you think that Native people face particular difficulty getting the help they need?

HOLGATE: I think a lot of the root causes of violence, especially sexual violence in our communities, stems from colonization from the systems that are implemented like patriarchy, white supremacy, these different foreign structures that were ultimately not to the benefit of black and indigenous relatives. It also led to systemic racism, that was just the outright target of our black and brown bodies, especially our women who were the most vulnerable. So that translated into policies that I think here in you know, here in so called the United States that things like the femicide, forced sterilization policies that were just as recent as 30 or 40 years ago.

KUNM: I also wanted to ask you about the disparities when we talked about violence against women . Last summer, for example, we saw Gabby Petito go missing, there was a nationwide effort to find her. But there's so many people who don't receive the same attention. What's missing from the coverage?

HOLGATE: I think to be inclusive, and we talk about sexual violence and domestic violence, that we're also including the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls issue because there was a shelter out of Gallup that reported that some of the women that utilize their shelter services who are either victims of sexual or domestic violence didn't return. And when they would get an update on the cases, they were actually murdered by their partners. So it's important that we understand these statistics because it allows us to look at the vulnerability factors, what are prevention methods, and how are we supporting relatives in these situations because we don't want our women, girls, non-binary or transgender relatives to go missing or to be murdered. And I think that's a part of the conversation that we should be talking about.


Albuquerque SANE Collaborative Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (505) 844-SANE (7263)

Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico

Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico

Solace Crisis Treatment Center

National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-3673

Support for KUNM’s public health coverage comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and from listeners like you.


Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.