Editor’s note: Our Posts from the Community feature is a platform for community announcements and event postings. If you have a post to be considered, send it to email@example.com or submit it directly.
The Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center (GLIIHC) offers medical and behavioral health services, case management, advocacy services and crisis intervention for individuals who have been sexually assaulted, with the Department of Behavioral Health being home to the Circles of Strength (COS) Program. COS provides individual therapy, group therapy, ongoing domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy services, and peer support groups for survivors of sexual violence. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most of these services went virtual. However, when establishing care or triaging an acute sexual assault, COS Program staff meet with survivors in person to provide support, develop trust, and ensure immediate medical needs are met.
To meet the needs of our survivors, GLIIHC has three telephone access points for anyone who has been a victim of violence. One access point is through calling the main GLIIHC phone line, and following automated prompts for the medical clinic. A second access point is by calling the Department of Behavioral Health directly. The third is through calling GLIIHC’s DV/SA Advocate using the advocacy service line.
The medical clinic provides immediate access to a nurse who is trained as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). A SANE Nurse has specialized training to support, treat, and address the medical injuries inflicted by a sexual trauma. GLIIHC, in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and the Department of Justice, is working on the development of a new program entitled “Tracking our Truth.” With guidance from specialists in the field of sexual assault forensic nursing this program focuses on building GLIIHC’s capacity to provide a full spectrum of sexual assault advocacy and medical forensic services. We look forward to not only offering medical treatment for injuries due to sexual assault, but also offer patients the option of having evidence collected in the event they choose to report the sexual assault to law enforcement.
The most important aspect across all of our services offered is to ensure the patient feels safe, cared for, have their needs met, and are able to understand their options as a survivor.
Unfortunately, sexual violence in AI/AN communities is a harsh reality. The rates of sexual violence in Native American communities have been identified as a public health emergency (Urban Indian Health Institute). American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or be victims of sexual assault compared to the rest of the country (Maze of Injustice, Amnesty International). They are stalked at a rate at least twice that of any other race (1998 Violence Against Women Survey). There are a number of barriers in access to care for women in tribal and urban communities who have experienced a sexual assault i.e. fear of victim blaming, lack of available resources, lack of trust in the criminal justice or healthcare system, and fears regarding confidentiality. Improving access to culturally responsive care and informing the community about the easiest ways to access medical, behavioral health, and advocacy services are critical.
Incorporating cultural practices into our care of survivors has shown to have an anchoring effect on their healing process. We utilize a client-centered approach through inquiry and empowerment of the survivor to identify what cultural practices have been helpful in the past, and therefore will be helpful in their healing journey moving forward. We utilize the touching and burning of traditional medicines in session to assist with grounding clients who are struggling with the flooding of trauma memories. We also offer the option of prayer, smudging, and calling on elders and other survivors willing to speak with survivors who are struggling.
Raising awareness on behalf of these survivors is at the core of the role our Circles of Strength (COS) Program plays. We are always looking to provide prevention education, information about our services, as well as supportive messaging for survivors of violence through community outreach campaigns. Participating in the Office of Violence Prevention’s Denim Day awareness efforts each April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month helps to bring survivors, agencies, and groups together, collectively to raise awareness about sexual assault.
The GLIIHC COS program can be found on the GLIIHC website (gliihc.net/cos), on Facebook, and on Instagram (@GLIIHCCOS).