Strong, Resilient, Indigenous: Combating Sexual Violence and Injustice in Native American Communities

Featuring Advocate for Native American Women and AΣT Alumna Autumn Asher, Beta Rho

By Kate Wehby, Gamma Xi, Chapter Services Coordinator

Warning: This article contains language that references sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.

One in three Native American women have been sexually assaulted or experienced attempted assault. This is the highest rate of sexual violence of any other group and is more than twice the national average.1 Eighty-six percent of assaults against Native American women are perpetrated by non-Native men.2 This is notable because Native American tribes do not have the jurisdiction to prosecute non-tribal members for many crimes, including sexual assault, even if the crime occurs on tribal land. Tribal justice systems also face a lack of resources, funding, and support that makes holding perpetrators accountable difficult.3

These statistics demonstrate a lack of access to justice for Native American women. This injustice motivates Alpha Sigma Tau alumna and member of the Southern Cheyenne Tribe Autumn Asher, Beta Rho, to be an advocate for Native American women. Autumn is a Ph.D. student at Washington University in St. Louis. Her doctoral research focuses on why the rates of sexual assault are so high in Native American populations and how this impacts Native American women. Autumn is featured prominently in a viral ATTN: video which focuses on raising awareness of the heightened rates of sexual violence that Native American women face. Autumn is also passionate about this topic is because she is a survivor of sexual assault.

A year after her assault during her senior year of college, she was invited to speak at the University of Oklahoma’s Minority Women’s Conference on the topic of sexual assault and minority women. At first, Autumn viewed it as an opportunity to speak informatively about sexual assault and how it impacts minority women, but she soon felt inspired to tell her own story. “In that moment I shared that I had been sexually assaulted and what that experience was like for me,” Autumn remembers. After sharing her story, she says that many attendees approached her to say that they too had been sexually assaulted and thanked her for sharing her story.

Autumn shares that there are many ways that friends and loved ones can support someone who has been sexually assaulted:

  • Immediately believe them. That’s the biggest thing.
  • Then, you can offer your support. First ask, “are you okay?” You can then ask more specific questions about what they may need, such as: “do you want me to go to the hospital with you?” or “do you want me to help you find a therapist?”
  • If she is willing, you can then help her find resources on campus or in your area that can offer her support. Autumn suggests looking into rape crisis centers, your campus’ Title IX office, or other resources in your area.

Autumn’s Alpha Sigma Tau Sisters supported her throughout the experience of reporting and healing from her assault. After a negative experience working with campus police, Autumn returned to the Alpha Sigma Tau floor of her residence hall and was crying. She recalls that Sisters hugged her and held her as she cried. “Just that support in that moment, that was exactly what I needed,” she shares, noting that the Sister who lived across the hall from her would check on her often to see how she was doing. “Those moments were so crucial to me staying together. I can only imagine if I went back to my dorm room and I lived by myself and I just stayed in there. Would I have gone back to school? Would I have finished my degree? Or would I have just gone home and tried not to deal with it?”

For Autumn, telling her story is a part of her journey towards reclaiming her voice. She encourages people to also share their stories if they feel comfortable doing so. “It’s very needed,” she says. “It’s also very healing.”

Autumn also stresses the importance of Alpha Sigma Tau Sisters to raise awareness about sexual assault, intervene if they see something wrong, and support survivors. “We have a huge strength in our Sisterhood, and that is exactly what survivors need.”

You can hear Autumn’s story and learn more about how sexual violence impacts Native American women at https://www.attn.com/videos/18857/native-american-women-speak-out-about-sexual-assault.

1 https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/us/native-americans -struggle-with-high-rate-of-rape.html
2 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/08/sexual-violence-native-american-communities
3 https://www.hcn.org/articles/tribal-affairs-why-native-american-women-still-have-the-highest-rates-of-rape-and-assault