By Raquel DeHerrera
Sexual Assault in our Tribal communities is unfortunately an all-too-common occurrence. In fact, according to the National Institute of Justice’s report Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men, 56.1% of American Indian/Alaska Native women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime and 14.4% have experienced sexual assault in the past year that this report was written (Rosay, 2016). Women ages 18–24 are at an elevated risk of experiencing sexual assault (RAINN, 2020). Some research finds that sexual assault amongst college students is as high as 20–25% (Mellins, Walsh, Sarvet, et.al; 2017). While there is much research on sexual assault on college campuses, there is little research that focuses on sexual assault prevalence on Tribal college and university campuses.
From what we can infer from both the National Institute of Justice’s report and with the many scholarly research on campus sexual assault, Tribal college and university students who identify as women are at an increased risk of experiencing sexual assault. Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ TCU students also are at an increased risk.
So, what is sexual assault? This can vary depending on many factors: Tribal laws and codes, state definitions (PL 280 states), federal definitions and of course how sexual assault is defined by your Tribal campus policies (these are often defined using Title IX definitions due to compliance).
The United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) defines sexual assault as: “… any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, Tribal and State law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent.” (USDOJ, 2020).
How can Tribal colleges and universities respond to sexual assault that has happened on their campuses? Many Tribal colleges and universities who receive federal funding (with some exceptions such as Haskell Indian Nations University) have to comply with Title IX and the Clery Act. Below is information on both as well as a link to their websites.
The Clery Act
The Clery Act requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to disseminate a public annual security report (ASR) to employees and students every October 1st. This ASR must include statistics of campus crime for the preceding 3 calendar years, plus details about efforts taken to improve campus safety (The Clery Center).
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” (NCAA).
Title IX applies to all educational institutions, both public and private, that receive federal funds. Almost all private colleges and universities must abide by Title IX regulations because they receive federal funding through federal financial aid programs used by their students (NCAA).
Holistic Sexual Assault Response
A holistic sexual assault response takes into account the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellness of TCU victims/survivors of sexual assault. In addition to having an annual security report and a Title IX office/investigator and policies required by Title IX, having an on-campus advocate available is ideal. An advocate’s role is to be a biased supporter for students and can walk with a victim/survivor as they navigate the many systems involved such as the legal system, medical system, law enforcement, and potentially more. Advocates can be available to students even if sexual assault did not take place on campus or within a campus activity and is incredibly important for students who experienced childhood sexual abuse. Advocates can address safety concerns, accommodations, legal accompaniment, and Sexual Assault Forensic Exam accompaniment to name a few.
For many colleges, having an on-campus advocate might not be an option due to limited resources. Partnering with local community-based advocates would then be important to provide an advocate response as well as can provide training and assistance with designing policies that work to enhance safety when a sexual assault has occurred. Specific sexual assault training for faculty/staff who potentially may be responding to students who disclose a sexual assault is encouraged. Training content could include:
• Trauma-Informed Responses
• Accommodations for students
• Mandated Reporting requirements and confidentiality
• The process for reporting to Title IX investigator
• Resources available for students
• Safety Planning
We know that there is an increased risk of dropping out of college for students who have been sexually assaulted (Haur, 2019). This can be due to the many impacts sexual assault has on victims/survivors such as depression, anxiety, and hypervigilance. It is critical for TCU campuses to have a holistic sexual assault response on campus. A great first step is understanding what your campus’ response is and what needs students have. You can also identify Tribal, local and national resources surrounding sexual assault.
If you are wanting to incorporate or enhance a more holistic sexual assault response or have more specific questions regarding sexual assault on Tribal colleges and universities, you can request technical assistance at Red Wind or email the project coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sexual Assault Resources for Students
Know Your IX is a youth led project of Advocates for Youth. On their website you will find resources concerning Title IX- such as student rights, toolkits, state policies, ways to get involved and resources for friends and families of victims/survivors of sexual assault on campus.
The NSVRC’s mission is to provide leadership in preventing and responding to sexual violence through collaboration, sharing and creating resources, and promoting research. You will find resources for survivors, friends and families of survivors, and advocates and educators.
Strong Hearts Native Helpline is a Native-specific helpline that offers safe domestic, dating and sexual violence culturally appropriate support and advocacy. Here you will find how to contact them, information on abuse, resources and how to get help.
love is respect is the national resource to disrupt and prevent unhealthy relationships and intimate partner violence by empowering young people through inclusive and equitable education, support, and resources (Love Is Respect).
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org y rainn.org/es) in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice (RAINN).
This project is supported by Grant № 2018-TA-AX-K003 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this presentation are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.